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CCI dismisses complaints against Google; D K Sikri gives dissent note

Press Trust of India/New Delhi 13 Jul 18 | 01:08 AM

It was alleged that Google indulged in anti-competitive practices with respect to its advertising platform AdWords

Anti-trust regulator CCI on Thursday rejected allegations of unfair business practices made against Google with respect to its advertising platform, saying the internet major's actions did not infringe provisions of competition law.

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In a majority order passed by four members, the CCI concluded that there was no violation of competition norms by Google. However, Competition Commission of India (CCI) Chairperson D K Sikri passed a dissent note.

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The majority ruling came on complaints filed against Google LLC, Google Ireland Ltd and Google India Pvt Ltd back in 2014.

The complaints were filed by one Vishal Gupta and Albion InfoTel (informants). Both entities are into remote technology support business.

It was alleged that Google indulged in anti-competitive practices with respect to its advertising platform AdWords.

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For the case, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) considered 'Market for Online Search Advertising Services in India' as the relevant one. According to the regulator, Google's AdWords policies protect the platform and the end-users, particularly, the vulnerable end-users.

"... there is evidence on record showing that the informants' conduct was likely to endanger end-users of remote tech services. They repeatedly committed multiple violations of the AdWords policies, demonstrating a consistent and persistent pattern of misconduct and user harm (eg. through tactics designed to mislead or exploit users)," the order said. There were multiple violations of AdWords Phone Number Policy by including telephone numbers in ad titles, text, or visible URLs that mislead users into thinking they would place a call by clicking on the ad, when in fact they would be redirected to a website, the CCI said.

Among others, the regulator said there were violations of the relevance clarity, accuracy and user safety policies by using inaccurate ad text.

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About the CCI order, a Google spokesperson said, "we are pleased that, after a thorough analysis, the Commission has confirmed Google's conduct to be fair, pro-consumer, and compliant with competition law".

"We are committed to ensuring that our users have a safe experience when clicking on ads on our platform," the spokesperson said in a statement.

In the statement, Google said the matter pertains to enforcement action taken by its Ads Team in 2013 against the two entities.

The internet major said that legitimate remote tech specialists help consumers fix problems with their computers or devices from a remote location.

However, there are several remote tech companies that engage in nefarious practices such as credit card fraud, installation of malware, enrolling users in recurring billing subscriptions without their prior knowledge and using false diagnosis information and scare tactics to encourage users to engage in their services, the statement noted.

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"Google has taken action against many such remote tech companies for breaches of the AdWords policies (and removed their harmful ads from its platform).

"These policies and Google's enforcement are aimed at protecting users, other legitimate advertisers, and the AdWords platform," it added.

Meanwhile, Sikri, in his dissent note, said he was of the opinion that "rather than passing a final order under Section 27 of the (Competition) Act, the present cases ought to have been referred back to the Director General... for further investigation" on the basis of certain aspects. Section 27 pertains to orders passed by the regulator after inquiry into agreements or abuse of dominant position. Director General is the probe arm of the regulator. Earlier too, Google had come under the CCI scanner for alleged unfair business practices.

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