SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Google Inc is unfairly favouring product listings in its shopping comparison service in Brazil Web search results, according to a complaint filed by rivals with the country’s Justice Ministry on Wednesday.
Brazilian comparison shopping sites Buscapé and Bondfaro accused Google of inflating the ranking of its Google Shopping service in search results. They claim Google Shopping is the only price comparison tool that appears with photos, prices and evaluations, a statement published on the Justice Ministry’s Web site said.
The ministry’s antitrust division, known by its Portuguese acronym SDE, said it would give Google 15 days to respond to the accusations. A Google press officer in São Paulo said on Wednesday the company had not yet been notified of the complaint and declined further comment.
“Google is using its domination of Internet search to promote a secondary product without the same criteria applied to its competitors,” Buscapé co-founder and Vice President Rodrigo Borges told Reuters in a telephone interview.
The SDE will formally investigate the matter if it is not satisfied with Google’s explanation. If an investigation concludes that Google is engaging in anti-competitive practices, the SDE will recommend that Brazil’s top antitrust body CADE examine the case.
This is not the first time that Google has been in the spotlight in Brazil, where it opened an office in 2005. Over the years, the company has faced repeated requests from Brazilian authorities to reveal the identity of bloggers and users of its popular social networking site Orkut who posted information and language violating local libel and anti-racism laws.
The complaint comes as Brazilians increasingly use the Internet as a vehicle for their purchases of books, music, home appliances and travel packages. All major retailers in Brazil run online units that lure thousands of buyers annually and rely on fair Web searches for customer leads.
U.S. lawmakers in September claimed that Google had grown into a dominant and potentially anti-competitive force on the Internet, while rivals allege the company uses its clout in the search market to trample on competitors as it moves into related businesses.
Google Chairman Eric Schmidt responded to those accusations saying that the company never cooks its search results to favour its own products. Mountain View, California-based Google controls more than two-thirds of the global search market.
Nine out of every 10 Web searches in Brazil are conducted through Google, according to data by local credit research company Serasa Experian.
Borges said Google started showing Google Shopping on the first page of Internet search results in Brazil soon after the price comparison service was launched in the country in October. He said that was unusual for such a newly launched product, suggesting a distortion of Google’s search algorithm.
Google is facing increased scrutiny at a time when Brazilian regulators are attempting to ramp up enforcement of competition laws after years of complaints from consumer advocates of lax oversight and antitrust abuses by companies.
Google fell 0.5 percent to $627.25 (400.03 pounds) on Nasdaq shortly late Wednesday in New York.
Additional reporting by Asher Levine; Editing by Guillermo Parra-Bernal, Todd Benson and Richard Chang