The steering committee of the Brazilian antitrust authority (Cade) has recommended the withdrawal of an investigation against Google for anti-trust practices in the internet price comparison market. The investigators considered the data found to be inconclusive and too weak to justify formal charges.
Despite Google being fined for this practice in Europe, Cade's report shows that in Brazil the algorithm changes actually benefit consumers.
The proceeding was filed after a complaint was made by the E-Commerce Media Group, owner of price comparison sites Buscapé and Bondfaro. According to the company, the search engine favors Google Shopping, a price comparison service launched in 2011, and this violates the requirement for neutrality in search algorithms to the detriment of competitors.
E-Commerce also accuses Google of giving priority to its own service since 2013, when it decided that Google Shopping would be placed in a fixed and privileged position in search results. But such ads, according to the report, would not be available to competitors, such as Buscapé.
In Cade's opinion, the data referring to the traffic decline in price comparators is not conclusive. On the other hand, the data related to expenses of price comparators with sponsored ads does not indicate there was an increase as a result of the practices adopted by Google. Accordingly, the steering committee claimed it was not possible to conclude that the analyzed conduct had a negative impact on the competitive environment.
In regard to Google's refusal to market ads with images for price comparators, the steering committee considered that giving priority to ads that allow the end consumer to reach the purchase site with one click, without having to go through mediators, is simply a product design developed by Google.
In addition, studies and tests submitted by Google show that users were on average more satisfied with the innovations introduced by Google on their results pages than the format without ads in prime locations.
According to the committee's report, the Brazilian probe did not detect any clear signs of loss to competitors, unlike what was verified in Europe, where Google was sentenced to pay a fine for the same practice.
The European authorities claimed that Google used algorithms to thwart rival sites by deliberately placing rival price comparison websites in low positions in search results, which was not verified in Brazil.
According to the committee, both in Brazil and in the research conducted in the United States, there is evidence of improvement in the user experience, which means that the innovations introduced by Google cannot be considered unfair competition.
The committee, therefore, understood that in markets with intense innovation, such as the case in question, intervention by an antitrust authority must be undertaken with caution, otherwise the innovative effort that is characteristic of these markets may be inhibited. For these reasons, it has recommended for the proceeding to be halted.
The case now goes to Cade's Administrative Court, which will have the final word. With information from the Press Office of Cade.
Administrative Proceeding 08012.010483/2011-94