Although it still faces numerous antitrust investigations in Europe, Google scored a victory there Friday when a U.K. High Court ruled in the company’s favor regarding one anti-competition complaint. In 2013, British mapping company Streetmap accused Google of abusing its dominant position to promote its own mapping service within search results. Streetmap said that action negatively affected traffic to its own service.
Google introduced its Google Maps service in the U.K. in 2007. Leicestershire-based Streetmap, one of the first companies in the online mapping space, launched ten years earlier, in 1997. It provides detailed street maps of Great Britain, enabling users to search by postcodes, place names, London street names, and grid references.
While Streetmap was a pioneering provider of online mapping resources, it lacked Google's resources. The company ultimately decided to fight Google because the search giant placed its Maps service so prominently in front of search engine users. Streetmap also had to fight the fact that Google could refine and improve its mapping offering more often than Streetmap.
Because Google placed a clickable Google Maps image at the top of its search results page, Streetmap was pushed to a link lower on the page. The upshot: Streetmap claimed anticompetitive behavior, accusing Google was promoting its own maps more favorably than those of its rivals. Streetmap’s attorneys said the company's business has been crippled by the presence of Google Maps in the U.K.
But the justice in the case has now dismissed Streetmap’s argument, saying that the inclusion of the Google Maps box at the top of its search results was not reasonably likely to have a significant effect on competition in the online maps market. The justice added that Google’s conduct was "objectively justified."
Streetmap said it intends to appeal the High Court ruling. The company said that the court’s decision is unfair to small businesses because it makes it nearly impossible for them to bring competition law complaints until it's too late. That's because of the high standard of proof required to demonstrate an appreciable negative effect of a supposedly anticompetitive practice.
The company’s director, Kate Sutton, added that Google admitted during the trial that it didn’t test Google Maps in the U.K. before debuting it there, which she claimed does not comply with British laws.
Lots of Complaints
Streetmap is only one of several companies in the European Union to bring antitrust charges against Google. Others include a French search engine, a British shopper comparison service, an Italian news aggregator, and a German business listing site.
But it isn’t only European companies that are going after Google in the E.U. American companies including Expedia, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and price comparison site NextTag have complained to the European Commission about Google’s business practices.
A case similar to the one brought by Streetmap, but regarding Google’s shopping comparison service, is currently being examined by the EU antitrust commissioner. The European Commission last year issued a formal statement of objections regarding the operation of Google Shopping, and is currently investigating Google’s Android mobile operating system in regard to antitrust complaints.