Yelp asks Europe to take new antitrust action against Google

According to the Financial Times (paywall), Yelp has formally complained to the European Commission (EC) that Google “abused its dominance in local search” and is seeking a formal Statement of Objections (antitrust charges) against the company.

The logic of the complaint is nearly identical to claims made against Google in the shopping search context: Google systematically favors “its own content,” minimizing that of competitors. The EC said when it brought the formal Statement in shopping search and subsequently fined Google roughly $2.7 billion that similar actions were possible.

Google has denied it has abused its position and appealed the shopping search fine to the European Court of Justice. Yelp operates in Europe, but with a reduced presence, since 2016.

Yelp co-founder and CEO Jeremy Stoppelman appeared on a “60 Minutes” segment this week, arguing that Google was intentionally harming competition in local and other areas. Another interviewee, EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, agreed and asserted that Google was engaged in illegal conduct and that she “had proof.”

Yelp’s Luther Lowe provided the following statement in an email:

When a mother does a search for a pediatrician in Berlin, instead of being matched with rich review content from a service like German startup Jameda.de, Google siphons her to a degraded local experience with fewer reviews and less content. In addition to being anticompetitive, this type of conduct directly harms consumers who still assume Google is relying on its meritocratic algorithms to govern which information appears at the top of the page.

The substantial economic data and evidence included in [Yelp’s complaint] provides the tools needed for Commissioner Vestager’s team to extend its finding of guilt in comparison shopping into local search, the most common form of search on Google.

Yelp was instrumental in helping defeat the 2014 antitrust settlement that had been worked out between Google and then EC competition chief Joaquín Almunia. Current commissioner Vestager has been much more aggressive in her pursuit of Google and other US tech companies than her predecessor.

Local search and travel were part of the original antitrust investigation into Google in Europe, but the scope of the official Statement of Objections was reduced to cover just shopping search. However, Vestager was clear there could be additional actions under the same theories and logic.

There are two other active antitrust complaints against Google in Europe, covering Android app pre-install rules and another pertaining to Google’s early AdSense contracts. If the EC were to take up Yelp’s complaint, it would represent another action, with billions more in potential fines.