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French Company Seeks $421M From Google For “Blacklisting”
Perhaps sensing “blood in the water,” a French company called 1plusV has sued Google in the Paris Commercial Court for the equivalent of $421 million. (The civil complaint was orginally filed on February 22, 2011.)
An operator of vertical search sites, 1plusV is the corporate parent of legal search engine Ejustice.fr, one of three companies (including Foundem and Microsoft-owned Ciao) that filed formal antitrust complaints against Google with European Commission last year. Those complaints led directly to the EC’s decision to pursue an antitrust action against Google, which is now in process.
The civil case doesn’t really involve a new set of claims but is a kind of follow-up to Ejustice’s earlier complaint, this time for substantial money damages. 1plusV wouldn’t be entitled to any damages from the EC antitrust action if there were findings against Google.
Between 2007 and 2010 no less than 30 vertical search engines created by 1plusV were “black-listed”, some of which showed significant business potential. A few or these 30 vertical search engines have been recently “white-listed”, i.e. indexed again by Google’s robots (without any content change nor explanation) but irreparable damage has been done; if all 30 search engines created by 1plusV had been allowed to compete on their merits, yearly sales would currently amount to more than €30 million
In addition, the company detailed what it said were Google’s anti-competitive or “unethical” behaviors:
- suffocation of technological competitors through a bundled access to ads revenue for the exclusive use of Google’s technology. 1plusV had to get rid of VSearch early in order to be granted access to AdSense real time.
- unfair competition in referencing Editors websites through the listing in Google results of sensitive and private data, including data from Government agencies’ extranets which explicitly ban these practices.
- manipulation of “natural results” through (i) the artificial pushing up of Google’s own services to the first page of search results without giving Internet users any chance to differentiate from real organic results and (ii) the discriminatory application of so-called “quality criteria” between competitors and own services.
I wrote a lengthy post yesterday arguing that the US Federal Trade Commission was unlikely to find evidence that Google engaged in anti-competitive behavior in the US market. The case in Europe I believe is much tougher for Google.
Whereas Bing and Yahoo combine for 30 percent of the search market in the US, Google controls 90 percent (or more) of the market, depending on the country, in Europe. This makes it much more challenging for sites to be found by users if they don’t rank on Google and for Google to claim that there are alternative ways to find properties.
Under normal circumstances Google might be inclined to settle a civil case like this, although the alleged damages are very substantial. Doing so however would probably give a “green light” to other would-be litigants that have similar grievances against Google.