The UK financial services industry regulator Financial Conduct Authority is taking a closer look at Google Comparison Ads. UK price comparison sites have complained that Google is unfairly competing with them by placing its own “product” at the top of search results.
Comparison Ads, which operate on a CPA basis, are one form of AdWords. Below is an example of how the ads look in US search results:
The UK inquiry essentially mirrors broader antitrust (‘vertical search”) complaints against Google around the globe. Google’s pending antitrust settlement in Europe is under fire from politicians for being too lenient.
As indicated, Comparison Ads are triggered by certain categories of searches, such as “best credit card offers” or, in at least one case, the brand of a prominent UK price comparison site Moneysupermarket.com.
In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission declined to pursue an antitrust action against Google on the basis of vertical search results. However, in Europe it does appear that officials have essentially accepted the argument that Google’s vertical/universal search results are unfair and anticompetitive when they threaten to “divert” traffic from third-party sites.