James Grimmelmann Asks, In the European Commission’s Antitrust Claims, Was Google’s Real Victim You?

By TAP Staff Blogger

Posted on May 13, 2015


In mid-April, the European Commission sent a Statement of Objections to Google which alleges that Google is violating EU antitrust rules. In a recent Wired article, law professor James Grimmelmann examines the European Commissions’ findings.

According to the European Commission’s Statement of Objections, Google is in breach of EU antitrust rules by favoring its own comparison shopping product in its search results pages in the European Economic Area. As a result of these practices, the “Commission is concerned that users do not necessarily see the most relevant results in response to queries – to the detriment of consumers and rival comparison shopping services, as well as stifling innovation.”

Excerpts from Professor Grimmelmann’s article, “In Its Antitrust Debacle, Was Google's Real Victim You?

The Commission’s public statement does a good job of explaining how Google helped itself and hurt its rivals in the comparison-shopping space, but it sidesteps the real issue in the case: whether Google helped or hurt its users. Google hasn’t been entirely aboveboard about how it tweaks its search algorithms. But it’s not clear that any shadiness on Google’s part translates into real consumer harm. Has Google hurt users? Maybe. Has the Commission demonstrated it? No.

The core of the Commission’s case against Google is an old and familiar claim: search bias. The Commission claims that Google treats Google Shopping results more favorably than it treats search results from competitors’ comparison-shopping websites.

The real question is relevance. Don’t cry for Foundem just because it shows up further down in Google search results than Google Shopping. Cry for Google users who had a harder time finding what they wanted because they had to wade through less relevant search results. Maybe that’s Google Shopping; maybe it’s Foundem. Google says its results are better; its competitors disagree. The only way to say which of them “should” show up at the top is to find out which results search users prefer.

Read the entire article: “In Its Antitrust Debacle, Was Google's Real Victim You?

James Grimmelmann is a law professor at the University of Maryland, and he directs the Intellectual Property Program. He is also a Visiting Professor at the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies. Professor Grimmelmann studies how laws regulating software affect freedom, wealth, and power.