Yelp has been an increasingly vocal critic of Google for several years. Now it has joined a group of companies opposing the European Commission’s current antitrust settlement proposal with Google.
Originally Google and Yelp were partners. Google unsuccessfully tried to buy Yelp for a rumored $500 million a year or so before the company went public. Later Yelp complained that Google was including Yelp reviews in its own local product without permission.
According to Yelp, Google said it couldn’t remove those reviews without removing Yelp from the index entirely. The dispute was ultimately resolved with FTC intervention. Indeed, the ability to disallow Google to include content in potentially competitive “vertical” offerings while maintaining it in the general index became part of the FTC antitrust settlement with Google and is part of the current EU settlement proposal.
According to a report in the NY Times, Yelp filed a formal complaint in Europe last month:
In May, Yelp’s chief executive, Jeremy Stoppelman, wrote a letter to José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission . . . about the antitrust proceedings.
“I truly fear the landscape for innovation in Europe is infertile, and this is a direct result of the abuses Google has undertaken with its dominant position,” Mr. Stoppelman wrote in the letter, which was made available by a person who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because the correspondence was meant to be private.
European competition commissioner Joaquín Almunia has asserted the most recent version of the Google antitrust settlement is all but a done deal. However private companies and European Parliamentarians alike have been calling for it to be revisited and for tougher terms. Almunia appears to be wavering in the face of this ongoing criticism.
Almunia is eager to get a deal with Google done. He’s reportedly stepping down in the fall. If a settlement isn’t reached by then a new antitrust commissioner might be willing to reopen the matter, which undoubtedly would be bad for Google.
The Times explains that “Under European procedure, the commission must consider the latest complaint. Yelp, if its complaint is accepted as part of the continuing case, will also have the right to appeal any eventual settlement with Google.”
Earlier today Almunia and the EU announced a nearly $600 million fine for French pharma company Servier and five producers of generic drugs. As this illustrates, Almunia and his body have significant authority to fine Google should a settlement not be enacted. Fines still appear quite unlikely however.
Postscript: See our related post, Leaked Documents Show How Yelp Thinks It’s Not Getting Screwed By Google