Google Competitor Files EU Antitrust Complaint Over Ads

Google Inc., the world’s leading search engine, blocks smaller competitors from generating advertising revenue, a competitor said in a complaint to European Union regulators.

1PlusV sent a complaint to the European Commission today claiming Google refused to allow so-called vertical search sites to use its advertising service, the French web publisher said.

“1PlusV accuses Google of pursuing a strategy of foreclosure against vertical search engines,” the company said in a statement. Vertical search engines limit their answers to one category, such as travel information. Google, Microsoft Corp.’s Bing and others offer horizontal search engines that comb all categories for information.

Google also appears to give preferential treatment to its Google Books pages in searches and includes some websites in its search results without their consent, 1PlusV said in a statement. The EU is already investigating Google over claims it discriminated against other services in its search results and stopped some websites from accepting rival ads. Microsoft’s Ciao from Bing was among those that made that complaint.

Google will “continue to work cooperatively with the European Commission, explaining many aspects of our business,” Al Verney, a spokesman for the company in Brussels, said in an e-mailed statement. There’s always “room for improvement and so we’ll be working with the commission to address any concerns.”

‘Further Steps’

Amadeu Altafaj Tardio, a spokesman for the European Commission, said in an e-mailed statement that regulators “will give Google the opportunity to comment on the allegations raised before deciding on what, if any, further steps to take.”

The EU’s antitrust probe of Google requires “careful analysis” to make “a thorough assessment of the allegations” against the company, Joaquin Almunia, the EU’s competition commissioner, said earlier this month.

1PlusV’s complaint follows one it made a year ago to EU regulators for its legal search site, which it said was “blacklisted” from Google’s search results three times. That had a “catastrophic” effect on the site’s traffic and it was never able to recapture its initial popularity, even after making changes that Google recommended, the company said.

Bruno Guillard, the owner of 1PlusV, told reporters in Brussels today the number of unique daily visitors to plunged from 40,000 in 2007 to around 100 after the site was blacklisted. The site also lost a contract to categorize web pages for France’s national library last year because it wasn’t “visible on Google,” he said. Microsoft now has the contract, he said.

‘First Page’

“If you are not on the first page of Google, you are supposed not to exist,” Guillard said.

1PlusV’s music search site and cultural guide were also removed from search rankings in a similar way, the company said. Some pages from those sites were relisted since the company filed its first complaint, it says.

Google sells advertising linked to search terms. Advertising accounted for 96 percent of the Mountain View, California-based company’s 2010 revenue, or about $28.2 billion.

Google’s AdSense “is the only really effective way of obtaining targeted advertising on a search engine,” the French firm said. Google’s policy compelled it to use Google’s custom search engine instead, it said.

The complaint also said Google violates web guidelines and disregards some websites’ warnings not to list their content in search results, including pages from the French senate website, France’s competition authority and the EU-backed online library Europeana. This gives Google’s search results an unfair advantage over rivals, 1PlusV said. By showing Google Books pages in its search results, the company may be violating the search engine’s own anti-spam rules, 1PlusV said.

The commission has power to impose fines of as much as 10 percent of revenue for monopoly abuses. The EU’s highest-ever penalty of 1.06 billion euros ($1.45 billion) was against Intel Corp. in 2009.

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