David Prosser: EU plans to ask Google searching questions

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The Independent Online

Outlook Another landmark for Google. One of the few prizes that has eluded it thus far in its battle for world domination with Microsoft has been the sort of anti-trust investigation that the latter faced years ago. Now Google has won that badge of honour, with the European Union set to look into whether it abuses its dominant position in search.

But does it? Well, the argument of the complainants, such as Foundem and the Microsoft-backed Ciao, is that there is a sinister reason why their price comparison services fare so badly in Google searches: Google deliberately downgrades them because they offer services it also provides. Still, while the EU is certainly right to investigate that assertion, it remains unproven.

What is true is that Google has become a company that many regard as arrogant. The frustration of Foundem, in particular, is that while independent analysts rate it very highly, it has failed to win significant market share because of its poor showing on Google. Worse, it has never managed to get a decent explanation for that poor showing or, too often, even any explanation at all.

It is a familiar complaint of those who run into difficulties with Google: getting any help from it other than via automated processes is very difficult. Its famous algorithm, the formula that produces the search rankings you see for any given term, remains a mysterious unknown. It has spawned an industry of search optimisation advisers, who trade on their ability to get websites a better result.

Part of that is commercial nous, of course, and part of it is for the benefit of Google's users. But if the EU's investigation forces Google to come a little cleaner over how it operates, it will not be before time.