Problems are mounting at Google. For a company with the mantra "Don't be evil", the search engine giant is drawing heavy fire from rivals, media barons, European regulators and now the Italian courts.
Yesterday three executives at Google – which also lost its crown as the UK's "superbrand" to Microsoft the same day – were convicted of violating privacy laws after its video site ran footage of a disabled boy being bullied.
It is not the first time privacy concerns have been raised at the company that said it wanted to "organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful". Fears had been raised about services including Google Street View and its new social networking tool Google Buzz, which drew a class action lawsuit. There were also questions over the length of time the group holds searches on record.
The Google Video case comes a day after it emerged that the European Commission is to investigate whether Google demotes certain companies in its search results.
Google, which has 85 per cent of the global search market and 95 per cent of the UK, says it is operating in line with European competition law, as well as the interests of users and partners.
Julia Holtz, senior competition counsel for Google, said: "Though each case raises slightly different issues, the question they ultimately pose is whether Google is doing anything to choke off competition or hurt our users and partners. This is not the case."
The issue was raised by Foundem, a husband-and-wife-run website in the UK, and a French group called eJustice. Shivaun Raff of Foundem said the company was now recognised by the search engine but wanted to prevent other start-ups from suffering the same fate. "When you are penalised from Google – and this can be done without an appeal – you disappear from the internet," she said. "Our business suffered hugely."
A complaint over search advertising was filed by Ciao, a price comparison site bought by Microsoft in 2008, which claimed that Google was using its hold on the advertising market to set artificial bid levels at its auctions.
"In antitrust terms it's the biggest investigation Google has had to deal with," said David Wood, legal adviser to Icomp, an association for online commerce businesses. "It isn't about cutting the company's size. It's about changing its behaviour to promote competition." Icomp is funded by its members and by Microsoft.
Google could face further scrutiny from regulators on search advertising over mobile phones. Vodafone has called for an investigation into Google's 80 per cent hold on the mobile search and advertising market, while O2's parent, Telefonica, has blamed sites such as Google for increasing the strain on its networks.
Meanwhile Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation has accused Google of "theft" over its news aggregation service, while the search engine has also been in court to defend its plan to scan the world's books.
Whit Andrews, an analyst at Gartner research, said: "Google is confused when the external perceptions of its ambitions don't match the internal ones. In its mind its goals are just and righteous. Scepticism confuses it."Reuse content