February 10, 2020 / 4:45 PM / 13 days ago

Google's holiday rental service under fire as 40 rivals urge EU antitrust action

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Alphabet (GOOGL.O) unit Google faces the risk of more EU antitrust problems after 40 rivals on both sides of the Atlantic accused it of favouring its own vacation rental service on its search engine and urged European Union enforcers to take action.

FILE PHOTO: A Spanish fisherman stands on a beach while an outline of the Queen Elizabeth II is seen projected on the Rock of the British Colony of Gibraltar to celebrate her 90th birthday, from La linea de la Concepcion, southern Spain April 21, 2016. REUTERS/Jon Nazca/File Photo

The 40 companies and trade bodies in nine EU countries, Switzerland and the United States, which include eDreams Odigeo, Expedia (EXPE.O) and Tripadvisor (TRIP.O), laid out the case against Google in a letter to EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager seen by Reuters.

“We see strong indications of a competitive strategy for Google to reduce us and our industry to mere content providers for the ‘one-stop-shop’ of Google’s new product,” the letter said.

In focus is Google’s prominent display of its product at the top of its general search results pages, jazzed up with pictures, a map review, ratings and prices.

“Such favourable ranking and display secures Google’s service more user attention and clicks than any competing service may acquire, even if these are more relevant for the user’s search query,” the letter said.

One of the signatories, who declined to be named, has taken the further step of filing a complaint with Vestager.

The letter came as Google gears up for a legal battle on Wednesday against the first of three antitrust fines levied by Vestager for using its dominance to promote its price comparison shopping service, squeezing out smaller rivals.

The Commission said it had received the letter, but declined comment on receipt of the complaint.

Google said its search results aim to provide users with the most relevant information.

“We’re currently testing a new format for specialist searches in Europe, including jobs, local and travel, where people might see a carousel of links to direct sites across the top of the search results,” a spokeswoman said.

“This is designed to demonstrate the range of results available.”

The company started including vacation rentals in hotel search results in 2018. The Financial Times was the first to report the letter.

(This story corrects paragraph 8 to show commission declines comment on receipt of complaint

Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Jan Harvey

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