With the European Union’s competition authorities getting close to a decision on whether to take action against Google, US regulators have also been pushing ahead with their own investigation into complaints against the company. The latest sign: Siva Kumar, chief executive of TheFind, a “shopping search engine”, tells us he is due to meet with the Federal Trade Commission soon to make his case that the search giant has unfairly hurt his company.
TheFind has not previously been among the companies that have complained publicly. But Mr Kumar says he has joined the anti-Google parade because of steep declines in the number of visitors to his website that he attributes largely to the recent “Panda” changes to search rankings.
Traffic referred by Google has halved, he says, as TheFind has slipped down the rankings. That looks particularly important with the rise of mobile internet access: around 20 per cent of the queries to TheFind come from mobile devices, and with Google enjoying an overwhelming share of mobile search, its influence looms even larger.
“We’re at a crucial juncture in mobile,” Mr Kumar says. “This is a space that needs innovation.”
The Panda changes to search rankings were designed to give more prominence to original content on the Web and downplay parasitical sites that merely ride on top of information already gathered by others. That has also hit other comparison shopping services like Foundem, the UK company which has been among Google’s most vociferous critics.
Defending his own site, Mr Kumar says TheFind includes some 500m different products in its index, which he claims is considerably more than Google itself includes. Around 60 per cent of the users that TheFind passes on to retailers goes to unaffiliated sites, compared to the 40 per cent that go to sites who pay for the service, he adds.
The FTC’s interest in this complaint comes a year after it started its broad review of Google and echoes other signs that it is stepping up its investigation – for instance, this report that it has subpoenaed Apple over Google’s mobile search.
We have sought a response from Google and will update when we have it.
Google responds: “We built our search results to serve users, not websites, and the great thing about the openness of the Internet is that if users don’t like the answers we’re providing, they can switch to another website with just one click.”
Its latest effort to bring more transparency to search – and defuse criticisms like those from TheFind – is a video posted this week that shows how changes to its search algorithm, like the Panda update, are made.
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