Google is the subject of a new multibillion-pound legal claim in the UK which accuses the tech giant of shutting out competition in mobile search and driving up prices for consumers as a result.
The claim, filed with the Competition Appeal Tribunal, is seeking around £7 billion in damages for UK consumers.
It accuses the company of breaking competition law by using its dominance of the search engine market to raise the prices paid by advertisers for prominence on Google search pages, with these higher fees ultimately passed on to consumers, who are then charged higher prices for the goods and services they buy.
In addition, the claim says Google has abused its dominance in the sector by tying its Search app with other services; for example, requiring smartphone manufacturers to install Search on to their devices in order to access the Google Play app store.
It also points to Google paying Apple to ensure Google search was the default search engine on Apple devices as an example of the firm abusing its position in the market.
The claim, which has been filed by consumer champion Nikki Stopford, argues that almost every consumer in the UK has been affected by Google’s actions, because of the company’s importance as an advertising platform.
The UK’s competition watchdog, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), has previously expressed concerns over the dominance of Google in the mobile search advertising space, and has an ongoing investigation open into suspected anti-competitive conduct by the firm in the area of advertising technology.
According to CMA figures, Google is set as the default search engine on 94% of the mobile device sector.
“Almost everybody uses Google as their go-to search engine, often trusting the company to help them find the best products and services at reasonable prices,” Ms Stopford said.
“Unfortunately, Google’s dominance of the search market has actually raised those prices for consumers.
“Despite judgments at the highest levels in Europe and complaints in the US, Google continues to rig the search market so that it can charge advertisers more.
“It’s a clear breach of competition law, for which consumers are paying the price.
“Google has been warned about its behaviour by competition regulators repeatedly but has taken no meaningful action to stop the abuse.
“This action aims to make the company accountable for its repeated lawbreaking and get consumers back the money they’re owed.”
A Google spokesperson said: “This case is speculative and opportunistic – we will argue against it vigorously. People use Google because it is helpful. We only make money if ads are useful and relevant, as indicated by clicks – at a price that is set by a real-time auction.
“Advertising plays a crucial role in helping people discover new businesses, new causes and new products.”