Google got slapped for abusing its power in India

Everybody, hold on.
Everybody, hold on.
Image: Reuters/Adnan Abidi
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India’s anti-trust watchdog Feb. 08 fined US-based search giant Google (pdf) Rs1.36 billion ($21 million), or about 5% of the average total revenue from its India operations, for “search bias.”

The Competition Commission of India (CCI) focused on Google’s commercial flight search function. The box, which advertisers can pay to be featured in, is usually displayed prominently in Google’s search results when a user searches for a flight or airline through the main search engine.

It shows sample rates from certain airlines based on the user’s query, and allows users to enter their travel dates and route for more targeted results. On selecting “search flights,” users are taken to the Google Flights search page which links to airline and other sites where bookings can be made.

The CCI found that the “disproportionate real-estate” given to the flight unit unfairly pushed down or pushed out other travel sites in India that rely on search engines to reach travellers, it said in a 190-page order (pdf). CCI also said that Google was being unfair to users by leading them to Google Flights, which may leave them “devoid of additional choices of results.” The watchdog called for clearer labeling of the link.

The order was in response to a 2012 complaint filed against Google by and Consumer Unity & Trust Society.

The investigation looked at other aspects of Google’s search business, including its OneBox design—the boxes that call out results from Google’s specialised search pages, like images, videos, or news, within the main page of results—advertising service AdWords, and online-distribution agreements. It did not find any wrongdoing on those fronts.

“The Competition Commission of India has confirmed that, on the majority of issues it examined, our conduct complies with Indian competition laws,” a Google spokesperson told Quartz. “We are reviewing the narrow concerns identified by the commission and will assess our next steps.”

India’s order against Google is a slap to the search giant that has faced monopoly troubles around the world. Last year, a record anti-trust fine was imposed on it over its shopping service by the Europe Commission, which is also investigating whether Google’s Android mobile operating system and AdSense platform give it an unfair advantage. It’s also facing anti-trust probes in places like Brazil.