India investigates Google over search results rigging

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Internet heavyweight Google is under investigation by the Competition Commission of India (CCI) over alleged rigging of search results in the country – a violation that could potentially be punished by up to 10 percent of the company’s income, running into billions of dollars.

The CCI director general filed a report following initial complaints by Consumer Unity and Trust Society, a local nonprofit organization, and the Bharat Matrimony website, who accused Google of ranking its own websites above its competitors, even those more relevant and those which showed a stronger traffic flow.

In total some 30 internet companies reportedly signed up to the CCI complaints list, including Flipkart, Facebook, Nokia’s maps division, MakeMyTrip and Hungama Digital.

The CCI report, which has been viewed by The Economic Times, said that the Silicon Valley giant is accused of placing advertised links above those more relevant for search queries. The CCI claims that Google search results are dependent on the amount of advertising funds the company receives from its clients, which results in sponsored links sometimes superseding the actual trademark’s website being searched. India’s authority also says that Google modified its search algorithms without informing users.

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Google has until September 10 to reply to the commission or request a deferral. In a response to the publication, Google says it is reviewing CCI’s ongoing investigation.

“We continue to work closely with the CCI and remain confident that we comply fully with India's competition laws. Regulators and courts around the world, including in the US, Germany, Taiwan, Egypt, and Brazil, have looked into and found no concerns on many of the issues raised in this report.”

Unless Google remedies the concerns raised by the CCI, the commission will be forced to hold hearings to determine whether the internet firm violated antitrust regulations. If found guilty, the company, which posted a net income of $14 billion on $66 billion in revenue for 2014, could be liable for paying 10 percent of that share.