As It Happens

Meet the small business owners who first pitted Google against the European Union

The EU's decision to slap Google with a record 2.42-billion euro fine was 11 years in the making, and it all started with a pair of British small business owners.
Shivaun Raff, left, co-founded the U.K. comparison shopping site Foundem with her husband Adam, right. (Shivaun Raff )
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The European Commission's decision to slap Google with a massive fine for violating antitrust regulations was 11 years in the making — and it all started with a pair of British small business owners.

Shivaun Raff co-founded the U.K. comparison shopping site Foundem with her husband Adam in 2006.

"Within weeks of us launching our service, we were struck by a Google search penalty that excluded us from Google's search results," Raff told As It Happens guest host Laura Lynch.

"That means Foundem effectively disappeared from Google search results, and unfortunately, that means we were effectively disappeared from the internet."

And at the same time, Google began promoting its own comparison shopping service at the top of its results.

So the Raffs took their complaint to the European Union's competition watchdog. Many other companies have since taken up the cause.

On Tuesday, the European Commission announced it is fining Google a record 2.42-billion euros — roughly $3.6 billion Cdn — for violating antitrust rules by listing links to its own online shopping services above those of rivals.

EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager addresses a press conference on an antitrust case against Google at the European Commission in Brussels on Tuesday. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)

"It's really important, not just for our company but also for all of the ecosystem on the internet — the competition and innovation throughout the global digital economy," Raff said. 

"This decision is going to certainly protect consumers in Europe and restore the unbiased and comprehensive search results that consumers still think they're getting when they go to Google."

The commission gave the Mountain View, Calif., company 90 days to change how it lists search results in Europe or face fines of up to five per cent of the average daily worldwide turnover of parent company Alphabet.

The outcome of this case is going to determine the future of competition, innovation and consumer choice across the internet. That is worth fighting for.-  Shivaun   Raff

The penalty itself is unlikely to leave a dent in Google's finances. Alphabet has more than $136 billion Cdn in cash, including nearly $83 billion in accounts outside of Europe.

But it could affect Google's way of doing business in the longer-term.

Google says it is considering an appeal and maintains it's just trying to package its search results in a way that makes it easier for consumers to find what they want.

"When you shop online, you want to find the products you're looking for quickly and easily. And advertisers want to promote those same products," Kent Walker, senior vice-president at Google, said in a statement.

"That's why Google shows shopping ads, connecting our users with thousands of advertisers, large and small, in ways that are useful for both."

But Raff doesn't buy it.

"All internet companies have an uncomfortable but unavoidable reliance on search engine traffic, on being found and discovered in search engines. And, of course, because Google is so dominant, when we say search engines, we actually mean Google," she said.

"So when Google excludes or demotes competitors from its search results that has a catastrophic impact on those service's traffic and revenues."

In fact, she said she's had to put Foundem on temporary hiatus amid crumbling revenues, but hopes to get up back up and running soon.

Asked why she chose to take on such a powerful company, Raff said: "The outcome of this case is going to determine the future of competition, innovation and consumer choice across the internet. That is worth fighting for."

"So even though we are small company, it was essential that to restore the level playing field that allows us as a small innovative company, and indeed, all innovation on the internet, to thrive."

With files from Associated Press

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