Press Release

MOW calls for consideration of full scale of Google’s actions vs Press publishers in Germany

The German Federal Cartel Office (FCO) announced at the beginning of January that it was looking at taking market abuse control action on Google, under new powers granted to it to assess anticompetitive practices.

The first case was announced a week later on January 12, where it was revealed that the FCO was considering the CORINT Media complaint concerning Google’s New Showcase.

MOW fully supports the complaint made by CORINT Media, but believes it is vital for the FCO to place Google Showcase within the broader context of Google’s multifaceted, anti-competitive approach.

Google is, on the one hand, threatening to take away online news websites’ ability to make money using alternate solutions, whilst on the other hand offering them a way out of a trap it has created – by joining the Google News Showcase.

This is a new system that allows users to see one aggregated source of news through Google, while sharing their data with Google. This is alongside Google’s other practices that undermine news websites’ ability to make money using alternate solutions. Three key points are provided below:

Claiming that its First-Party data system are preferred and better for privacy, compared to third party cookies.

Google routinely uses multiple cookies and other technologies to track people’s activity across the web. Google also relies on transferring information from other companies to its own systems using both these random identifiers as well as people’s identity. For example, Google commits to the UK Competition and Markets Authority that even should it be allowed to eliminate support for its rivals’ use of random IDs stored in cookies it will continue to offer its “Customer Match” data transfer service, that sends information from large clients to improve the monetization of Google’s own inventory. Blocking the use of third-party cookies by news websites puts them at a competitive disadvantage to the “first-party Google party” that it is encouraging all to join.          

Blocking the User Agent string of data that exists in HTML.

The User Agent string enables different versions of a newspaper to be more effectively rendered across different browser versions and types of devices. Knowing whether a user is on an old version of a phone is important in ensuring that the device can read the story and see the newspaper’s ads. Google is throwing wrenches into this long-standing internet standard, through its Chrome browser changes, meaning that reliably rendering web pages will be more difficult.

Interfering with rivals’ ability to compete.

Google is both interfering with rival publishers’ abilities to compete and benefit from third-party partners outside its own Google News Showcase, and disrupting customer relations with the news websites they visit. News websites conventionally operate as standalone businesses, funding their content via advertising. They are considered “golden websites” because they are visited many times; fresh news is a reason people repeatedly visit the same site. But Google News Showcase complicates this relationship in a number of ways. It puts the news websites content on a Google site, so Google has the relationship with both the reader and advertiser, and captures end user data every time they visit. News websites then earn less money and become more dependent on Google.

Further, by combining a set of competing news websites on its News Showcase, additional competition questions are raised. How does Google promote different titles and versions of news stories? How does Google choose among different competing news websites in terms of where to place advertising? How does Google address the promotion of competing advertising via Google Search and New showcase?

Notes for Editors

The Movement for an Open Web is a coalition of organisations and businesses who care about the future and freedom of the internet.

Given the critical role it plays in funding online journalism, communication and commerce, we oppose the trillion-dollar corporations who want to unilaterally decide how the web functions, and who wins and loses online.

To pursue this David vs Goliath struggle we need your support, so join us in this vital cause – for the future prosperity of the many, not the few.

For further information on this issue, and on joining the Movement for an Open Web, please contact:

Header image via Christian Wiediger on Unsplash (Licensed for use under the Unsplash License)