Blog Post

The Urgent Need for Unbiased Search: Addressing Google’s Non-Compliance with the DMA

The centrality of unbiased search engines in the functioning of the internet cannot be overstated. Google Search, which commands over 90% of the global market, wields immense influence over user preferences. With over 400 million monthly active users, according to data shared in compliance with the Digital Services Act, Google’s ability to shape the digital landscape is unparalleled.

Google’s initial mission to organize the world’s information has remained unchanged on paper. However, its actions reveal a shift towards online intermediation, prioritizing transactions over information dissemination. This pivot has raised significant concerns about conflicts of interest. By developing vertical search products, Google has started demoting competitors through algorithmic adjustments or by simply occupying prime real estate on search results pages with its own services.

In the travel sector, for instance, Google prominently features its own services like Google Hotels, Flights, Trains, Vacation Rentals and Things to do, overshadowing organic search results and putting competing services at a disadvantage. The European Commission’s 2017 decision in the Google Shopping case was a landmark moment, highlighting this self-preferencing behavior as a violation of antitrust rules.

The DMA seeks to curb these practices by prohibiting gatekeepers from favoring their own services over those of third parties. Article 6.5 explicitly bans self-preferencing, ensuring that search engines cannot give preferential treatment to their own intermediation services. This provision is crucial for maintaining the integrity of general search and safeguarding user choice.

Despite the clarity of Article 6.5, Google continues to integrate its specialized services into search results, with richer features than those offered to competitors. This blatant non-compliance has rightly prompted the European Commission to open a non-compliance investigation into Alphabet’s practices.

The Commission seems determined to fully exercise its powers under the DMA, including imposing fines until gatekeepers achieve full compliance. Yesterday’s announcement by the Commission of its preliminary findings in the investigation into Apple over its implementation of the anti-steering obligations should be an important warning for Google.

The next few months will be extremely important to establish whether Google will be willing to change its approach or face the inevitable legal consequences for non-compliance. It is clear that, to align with the spirit and letter of the law, Google will need to move away from offering vertical search features on the Search Engine Result Page (SERP), as the Commission has suggested in the last months.

Until Google aligns its operations with the Regulation, the broader goal of unbiased and fair search remains unfulfilled. The Commission’s rigorous enforcement of Article 6.5 is essential to restoring balance and ensuring that the vast power wielded by Google does not further compromise competition and innovation in digital markets and starts fostering a more contestable and accessible online environment for all businesses.


This blog post has been written in the context of eu travel tech’s participation in the ECN Digital Markets Act Conference in Amsterdam on 27 June 2024.