Google Targeted Again as EU Is Said to Weigh Search-Result Rules

  • EU examining transparency requirements for delisting content
  • Antitrust rivals complained of decisions to demote content

Google may be forced to explain why it pushes down links in its search results under European Union rules being drafted this year, according to a person familiar with the plans.

The European Commission is weighing legislation to require online platforms, including search engines, to explain why they decide to delist certain content, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The measures under consideration may allow discussion between the search engine and content owner and possibly allow some form of redress.

Internet giants are coming under increasing pressure in Europe on several fronts, from how they are taxed to how swiftly they act to remove hate speech or copyrighted material. New legislation on how online platforms operate comes as the EU’s powerful antitrust arm says it didn’t see competition law problems with Google ranking links to rival shopping-search sites lower in its general search results.

"There is a need to intervene” to make platforms’ decisions to remove content more transparent, the EU Digital Vice President Andrus Ansip told reporters in Brussels on Monday. He’s also working on rules on how long internet sites should act on complaints to remove illegal content, such as hate speech, and measures to create a "fair" online environment for business-to-business services due to be published in December.

News Corp., the owner of the Wall Street Journal, had complained that Google unfairly discriminated against its content after the publisher began blocking the search engine giant’s users from reading free articles earlier this year, causing traffic to plummet. The company has also filed antitrust complaints about the behavior of the Alphabet Inc. unit. Google is now relaxing its policy on paywalled sites, News Corp. Chief Executive Officer Robert Thomson said in September.

Google didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on the EU’s plans.

Foundem, a U.K. comparison shopping-search site, sparked a nearly seven-year antitrust probe into Google with its complaint that links to its services were unfairly moved down in Google’s search result rankings.

An EU official said last week that regulators didn’t "take issue with demotion as such" and focused their investigation on how Google only showed results from its own shopping service in a promoted box on top of general search results.

Its search rankings have come under intense scrutiny by the EU. Antitrust investigators said they had evidence that the most highly ranked shopping service appeared "on average only on page four of Google’s search results, and others appear even further down."

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