Streetmap website fights on after losing court case over Google dominance
A UK-based website has vowed to fight on after losing a High Court action in which it accused Google of abusing its “dominant position” in the online search market by “driving traffic” from rivals to Google Maps.
StreetMap.EU Ltd said the introduction of a new “big map” service by Google in 2007 was followed by a “dramatic loss of traffic” to its website.
StreetMap, which launched its online mapping services in 1997, asked Justice Roth to rule that Google had engaged in “anti-competitive conduct” contrary to provisions of the Competition Act 1998 and EU competition law.
But the judge ruled that the introduction by Google of the new-style Maps OneBox in 2007 was “not reasonably likely appreciably to affect competition in the market for online maps”.
The judge added that, in any event, Google’s conduct was “objectively justified”, and “on the assumption that Google held a dominant position, it did not commit an abuse”.
Refusing StreetMap permission to appeal, the judge acknowledged that the case raised “important points of principle” in UK and EU competition law not considered in other cases.
But he said it should be left to the Court of Appeal to decide whether to entertain an appeal.
A Google spokesman said: “The court made clear that we’re focused on improving the quality of our search results. This decision promotes innovation.”
But StreetMap director Kate Sutton said the company would apply to appeal for two reasons.
She said: “First, this decision is unfair for small businesses. The hands of small businesses are now tied behind our backs. 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.
“By raising the standard of proof from probability to ‘appreciable effect’ a complainant needs to have information which will usually only be known to the dominant company.
“Second, Google has got away with non-compliance with its legal obligations. It admitted in the trial that it did not do a UK test when it introduced Google Maps. It instead only looked at its effects on the US market.
“Google put forward no evidence that it had turned its corporate mind to compliance with UK law at the time. We think that it is wrong for any company with the duty of a dominant company to take such an approach to compliance with the law.”
Tim Cowen, partner at law firm Preiskel & Co LLP, which acted for StreetMap, said: “This decision says that companies do not need to have evidence of compliance at the time, so long as they can find something later that may work as a defence.
“StreetMap’s business was destroyed. When Google introduced Google Maps in 2007 it did not check for effects outside the US and put forward no evidence that any check was performed for the UK. This decision raises a question what big companies need to do to show compliance with EU and UK law.”
Google is also being confronted by European Union antitrust regulators over allegations that it favours its own services over those of rivals when it comes to providing searches for hotels, flights and mapping.