A group of 165 companies and industry groups called on EU antitrust enforcers to take a tougher stance against Google, saying the US technology giant unfairly favors its web search service.

The group includes companies from the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as their counterparts in 21 European Union countries. It said in a joint letter to EU antitrust chief executive Margrethe Vestager on Thursday that Google is providing its own services, such as accommodation, travel and work, to be placed first in search results. Location, and urged swift action to stop this practice.

Google, which is affiliated with Alphabet, refutes its unfair preference for its services. It said that its users are not locked out, and competition with the service only requires one click on the Internet.

Vestager has fined Google a total of 8.25 billion euros (about 72,600 crore) in the past three years for abusing its market power to support its shopping comparison service, Android mobile operating system and advertising business.

The 165-member group said that this is the largest letter in history, calling on the EU’s head of competition to take action. It consists of 135 companies that provide online services and 30 industry associations.

Reuters saw that the signers of the letter included long-time Google critics Expedia, Foundem, Kelkoo, Stepstone, Trivago and Yelp, and their complaints triggered an EU shopping investigation on Google.

The letter said: “Although we are competing with each other for the best consumer experience, there is still a common competitor-Google that is unfairly competitive.”

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It added: “Google has gained an unreasonable advantage by displaying various forms of grouped specialized search results (so-called one-boxes) and prioritizing its own services in its general search results page.

The OneBox summarizes information and images in a box near the top of the search results, which is often a way for local businesses to gain more visibility.

For example, a search for local jobs may bring up a box that provides Google’s job search service, or the results of a flight query may have a box that provides Google’s flight search service.

The letter said: “Through the exclusive use of OneBoxes, Google can artificially restrict users to their own services and prevent them from accessing more competitive related services.”

The organization stated that the “Digital Markets Act” (the upcoming new EU technical rules that will prevent dominant online platforms from favoring their services) will take too long to take effect. They urged Vestager to act quickly to ensure that Google treats competitors equally in search results.

They said: “Many of us may not have the strength and resources to wait for this regulation to take effect.”

Vestager will announce a draft law on December 2 that requires input from EU countries and the European Parliament to become legislation in a process that may take a year or more. It is not clear how the new rules will affect Google’s display of its search results.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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