CCI set to probe against Google for alleged abuse of Dominant Position by imposing Unfair Condition on Digital News Publishers

The Competition Commision of India (CCI) in the matter of Digital News Publishers Association India Today Group Mediaplex Vs. Alphabet Inc, Google LLC and others have ordered a probe against Google for alleged abuse of Dominant Position by imposing Unfair Conditions on Digital News Publishers.

The Informant has averred that its members, being engaged in the business of News Media, have endeavoured to provide credible and fact-checked news, which is the bedrock of any democracy. To this end, members of the Informant have invested and continue to invest a sizeable amount of money to train their journalists and other officials, hire reporters and invest in production to provide credible news. Further, the pandemic, triggered by the novel coronavirus, SARS CoV-2, has turned out to be a watershed for many industries and businesses, with the news media industry being one of the hardest hit.

The pandemic has accelerated the transition of consumers of news from traditional print and television media to digital channels. The web of digitally consumed news has expanded rapidly, starting from websites, e-mailed newsletters and text messages, to complex data and algorithm-driven curation and dissemination of news through smartphones and social media.

As per the Informant, the majority of the traffic on news websites comes from online search engines (more than 50%), wherein Google is claimed to be the most dominant search engine. Based on the same, the Informant has averred that more than 50% of the total traffic on the news websites is routed through Google and, being the dominant player in this field, Google, by way of its algorithms, determines which news website gets discovered via search. It has been further averred that it is the content produced by news media companies that create the context for the audience to interface with the advertiser; however, online search engines (Google) end up leveraging the revenue/returns much more than publishers.

The Informant has also elaborated on the ecosystem of digital advertising and the role played by Google and its associate companies in the same, which enable them to earn a major share of revenue from the digital advertising space. It has been contended that Google not only has a monopolistic position in search in India, it also has a very strong position in advertising intermediation and controls/retains the major share at each level.

“The Google is the major stakeholder in the digital advertising space, and it unilaterally decides the amount to be paid to the publishers for the content created by them, as well as the terms on which the aforesaid amounts have to be paid. As an illustration, the Informant alleges that Google has unilaterally decided not to pay the publishers of news for the snippets used by them in search,” the complainant informed.

The alleged issue of publishers being forced to build mirror-image websites using the AMP format, with Google caching all articles and serving the content directly to mobile users, can have revenue implications for the publishers. As alleged, for AMP articles, Google restricts paywall options unless publishers rebuild their paywall options and their meters for AMP, which may amount to an unfair imposition on publishers. These aspects would be suitably examined during investigation.

The coram headed by the Chairperson Ashok Kumar Gupta, Sangeeta Verma and Bhagwant Singh Bishnoi noted that the development in some countries such as France and Australia, as referred by the Informant, that Google has been asked to enter into fair/ good faith negotiation with news publishers for paid licensing of content to address the bargaining power imbalance between the two and the resultant imposition of unfair conditions by Google. No doubt, Google, being the gateway, generates substantial traffic for news publishers, but at the same time, the bargaining power imbalance and denial of fair share in the advertising revenue, as alleged by the Informant, merit detailed investigation for the reasons detailed supra. The investigation by the DG would be able to examine the issues in a comprehensive manner by giving an opportunity to all concerned to present their case.

The Commission is of prima facie view that Google has violated provisions of Section 4 of the Act. The Commission was satisfied that a prima facie case is made out against the alleged conduct of Google, which merits an investigation. Google would have sufficient opportunity to present its case during investigation.

The Commission directs the Director General (DG) to cause an investigation into the matter under the provisions of Section 26(1) of the Act. The Commission also directs the DG to complete the investigation and submit the investigation report within a period of 60 days from the date of receipt of this order.

Click Here to Read Original Order/Judgment

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