Competition Commission of India finds no infringement of the Competition Act in Vishal Gupta and Albion Infotel limited – cases against Google

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In an order dated, 12/07/2018 – Competition Commission of India found no evidence of infringement in complaints filed by Vishal Gupta and Albion Infotel limited against Google. The Commission examined three issues on record as explained below and concluded that Google has demonstrated that it followed a fair, legitimate process using clear, accessible and pro-consumer policies. The Commission also noted – that Google provides sufficient data to advertisers on the performance of their advertisements and no contravention of the provisions of the Act can be attributed to the Google’s bidding process.

Statement from Google Spokesperson:

“We are pleased that, after a thorough analysis, the Commission has confirmed Google’s conduct to be fair, pro-consumer, and compliant with competition law. We are committed to ensuring that our users have a safe experience when clicking on ads on our platform.”

Key observations in the order are summarised below:

 Issue No. 1

Whether the Adwords accounts of the Informants were suspended by Google in an unfair or discriminatory manner

  1. The Informants, thus, have no ground to claim that Google’s enforcement action was unfair and contrary to Section 4(2)(a)(i) of the Act. On the other hand, Google has demonstrated that it followed a fair, legitimate process using clear, accessible and pro-consumer policies.
  2. The Commission accordingly agrees with the DG’s conclusions that the termination of the accounts operated by the Informant-1 and the Informant-2 for well documented violations of the AdWords Policies, under clause 11 of the AdWords Terms & Conditions, was fair and legitimate. It did not amount to an infringement of the Act.

Issue No. 2

Whether Google imposes unfair conditions in two clauses of Google’s Adwords terms and conditions and whether this amounts to an abuse of dominance under the Act?

  1. Clause 11, as applied across the AdWords platform, is also beneficial because it removes advertisers who violate the applicable laws or Google’s policies, using the system to their advantage and harming consumes. Such advertisements and accounts harm competition as business may be diverted from genuine competition to ineffective solutions; and consumers are disincentivised from accessing a useful platform as a result of bad experiences, which threatens the long-term operation and profitability of the market.
  2. In the present cases, the Informants voluntarily agreed to Google’s terms and conditions, including a number of policies governing their conduct, such as the AdWords Policies. These terms are simple, coherent and easy to understand.
  3. The Commission also notes that the DG itself recognized that Clause 11 was used to protect users, when exercised to terminate the accounts of the Informants. Moreover, the Informants have nowhere been able to show that they have been discriminated against others by way of application and implementation of Clauses 4 & 11.

Issue No. 3 

Whether the bidding process of Google Adwords is extremely opaque and not transparent?

  1. Having examined the issue, the Commission is of the considered opinion that this aspect has already been considered extensively and carefully in its order issued in Case Nos. 07 & 30 of 2012. In the said order, the Commission found that “the DG’s concerns regarding disclosure of advertiser performance data by Google does not appear to be well founded…[and]…Google provides sufficient data to advertisers on the performance of their advertisements.”

The Commission is of the opinion that the same conclusion applies in the present cases, as the DG’s claims are identical to those alleged in Case Nos. 07 & 30 of 2012 and given the short lapse of time since that order, there is no reason to assume that Google has deviated from its policies in providing sufficient useful information to advertisers that allow it to fairly evaluate their campaigns.

As a result, the Commission holds that Google provides sufficient data to advertisers on the performance of their advertisements and no contravention of the provisions of the Act can be attributed to the Google’s bidding process.

  1. Accordingly, no case of contravention of the provisions of Section 4 of the Act is made out against Google in respect of the allegations of opacity of its Quality Score.

Detailed Order available here:

What is the case about?

These cases concern enforcement action taken by Google’s Ads Team in Autumn 2013 against two “remote technology support” companies (Vishal Gupta/Audney Infotel and Albion Infotech).

Legitimate remote tech specialists help consumers fix problems with their computers or devices from a remote location.

However, there exist several remote tech companies who engage in nefarious practices, such as credit card fraud, installation of malware, implied or misleading affiliation with 1st-party developers or well known tech companies, enrolling users in recurring billing subscriptions without their prior knowledge, breaking anti-spam rules, and using false diagnosis information and scare tactics to encourage users to engage in their services.

Many of these companies have already been the subject of regulatory enforcement under consumer protection laws around the world.

Google has taken action against many such RTS companies for breaches of the AdWords policies (and removed their harmful ads from its platform). These policies and Google’s enforcement are aimed at protecting users, other legitimate advertisers, and the AdWords platform.

In early 2014, Vishal Gupta/Audney Infotel and Albion Infotech complained to the CCI about Google’s conduct.  The CCI commenced its investigation in September 2014.