Taking on web-giants Google in the courtroom is a brave and bold move and as UK based company Streetmap recently found out, David doesn’t always manage to topple Goliath.
As their name implies, Streetmap peddle a maps and directions service covering the whole United Kingdom; a venture undeniably similar to the Google Maps service offered by Google. Streetmap’s gripe with Google is the fact that the company’s widely-used search engine, perhaps unsurprisingly, gives Google Maps preferential listing in related searches. Whilst many would see this as a common sense method of promoting your own product, Streetmap believe such practice is a flouting of business competition laws.
Streetmap began legal proceedings against Google in November of 2015, citing an “abuse of competition” and the resulting case, in essence, became a civil counterpart to the European Commission’s antitrust suit also currently being fought against Google over their ‘shopping’ features.
Streetmap believe that positioning Google Maps at the top of search results, a practice begun in 2008, has negatively impacted both Streetmap’s incoming traffic and profits to the point where the UK-based company can no longer function as a viable business.
The UK’s High Court of Justice has however now ruled against Streetmap. According to The Guardian, the court ruled that Google’s preferential treatment of its own maps service within search results was not “reasonably likely appreciably to affect competition in the market for online maps.”
Streetmap will reportedly appeal the decision, with their spokesperson Kate Sutton declaring “this decision is unfair for small businesses. The decision makes it effectively impossible for a small business to bring a competition law complaint until it is too late, because the information required will simply not be known to them.”
Despite the court’s ruling, Streetmap maintain that Google are falling short of business competition requirements, as the internet titans admitted during the trial to not researching the effects prioritising Google Maps would have on the United Kingdom market and only examining how the practice would impact the competition in the U.S.A.
There is however, a considerable elephant in the room in the sense that web-users generally consider Streetmap to offer a vastly inferior service and experience than its Google-owned competitor. Consequently, it’s difficult to say whether the reported decrease in traffic and revenue is due to the search result positions or the arrival of a genuinely superior alternative.
Time will tell whether this ruling will have an impact upon the European Commission’s case but the ruling certainly won’t do any harm to Google’s defiant stance against the investigation.