Italian Competition Authority investigates Google’s alleged abuse in the market for online advertising

On 26 August 2009, the Italian Competition Authority opened an investigation (see also press release of 4 September 2009) to determine whether Google is abusing its dominant position in online search services. The procedures was prompted by a complaint from FIEG, the Federazione Italiana Editori Giornali (Italian Newspaper Publishing Federation), according to which Google is putting publishers at a disadvantage in the advertising market if they opted out of Google’s news aggregator service, Google News Italia, which brings together, indexes and partially displays news published by many online Italian publishers.

In fact, Google makes it possible for a publisher not to appear on its Google News service, but FIEG claims that websites not wishing to appear on Google News are “automatically” excluded from Google’s search engine. However, being on Google’s search engine is a determinant factor in allowing a website to attract visitors and thus earn advertising revenues, given the popularity of Google’s search engine. This, according to the Italian Competition Authority, may distort the market for online advertising with the further effect of consolidating Google’s market position as an intermediary in the sale of online advertising.
Websites may exclude themselves from both Google News and Google search by including a certain text file in the website directory, or a special HTML tag in the website source code. However, websites owners wishing to just exclude Google News while maintaining Google search have to contact Google News, but with no guarantees or indication of how efficiently such a request will be dealt with.[Gabriele Accardo]