Google has proposed measures on Wednesday (12 January) to address concerns raised by the German antitrust authority in the ongoing case regarding the Google News Showcase platform. EURACTIV Germany reports.

In June 2021, the German Federal Cartel Office (Bundeskartellamt) initiated proceedings against Google for the antitrust investigation of Google News Showcase, based on a complaint by Corint Media. The digital giant has now reacted and announced it will make adjustments in the areas criticised by the authority.

“Google has assured measures with which it will respond to our expressed competition concerns regarding Google News Showcase,” said the president of the German Federal Cartel Office, Andreas Mundt, in a statement.

The programme was announced by Google CEO Sundar Pichai in October 2020 to make the Google News app more attractive to users through high-quality content, and to “support quality journalism in Germany and elsewhere”, a Google spokesperson told EURACTIV. Media publishers would also be paid directly for the use of their content.

According to Google, around 700 publications worldwide are already part of Showcase, including 90 German news media, such as FAZ, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Die Zeit and Der Spiegel.

Discriminatory and anti-competitive 

However, Google’s programme has also attracted criticism. It was feared the offer could lead to discrimination against individual publishers and that competing offers could be pushed out of the market.

Google is now trying to counter these concerns with a bundle of measures.

For example, Showcase content will no longer be included in a general Google search, since the antitrust body feared this could lead to bias in favour of the internet giant.

The tech giant has also announced that it will adjust the contract terms of the participating publishers and that access to the programme will be based on factual criteria.

“Showcase is a new offer that provides added value to both press publishers and consumers. We are therefore working closely with the German Federal Cartel Office to find the right approach here as efficiently as possible,” a Google spokesperson told EURACTIV.

The Bundeskartellamt will now determine whether the measures are sufficient with the help of “broad consultations in the industry”, said Mundt. “In order to ensure that the measures proposed by Google are effective, we are dependent on the assessment of the market participants concerned,” Mundt added.

Google’s approach comes just a week after the Bundeskartellamt found Google to be of “overriding importance across markets”. As a result, the digital giant is now subject to the extended rules of market abuse control to combat anti-competitive practices.

Google has another case pending before the Federal Cartel Office. In May 2021, the authority began investigating Google’s handling of user data, in particular the company’s “strategic advantage” and “established access to competitively relevant data”, as described by the antitrust body at the time.

The two proceedings are based on Section 19a of the German Competition Act (GWB Digitalisation Act), which was amended in January to make the digital space fairer and create competition law tailored to the challenges of digital markets.

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]