Italian antitrust regulators are investigating Google after the Italian Federation of Newspaper Publishers (FIEG: Federazione Italiana Editori Giornali) complained that Google News is reducing publishers' ability to attract traffic to their sites. This complaint is nothing new, but what is interesting (and disputable) is their claim that asking to be removed from Google News results in exclusion from the standard Google search engine.
Corriere della Sera quoted the antitrust authority's statement which noted that this state of affairs amounts to "an extremely damaging condition [for publishers]: presence on Google's search engine is crucial in helping a website to attract visitors and therefore to obtain income from advertising, given the extremely widespread presence of this search engine."
The preliminary investigation will look at whether Google's behaviour "which is made possible by its undisputed dominance of the search market" amounts to undue control of competition in the online advertising market, "with the further effect of consolidating its position as an intermediary in this." The investigation will be carried out in collaboration with the financial police service, ANSA reported.
Corriere reported that Google's business product manager Josh Cohen responded that there are various options for publishers with respect to Google News, and contrary to FIEG's claim that if publishers choose to leave Google News their papers' work will automatically be taken off Google search results, one of these options was to remain in Google search results while not appearing on Google News. He also stressed the extent of the traffic that Google News sends to news sites: 1 billion clicks a month, and added that Google receives many more requests to be included in the service rather than removed.
The situation with regards to the link between inclusion on Google News and the general search engine needs further clarification; were the Italian publishers mistaken in concluding that their articles could not appear on one but not the other? Or has Google made that option more difficult than it suggests?
What is clear is that Italian publishers are taking making money on the web seriously and are ready to take on those who might prevent it. The New York Times reported that online advertising has been particularly slow to develop in Italy, and that FIEG was also looking at other measures such as charging online to try to generate more revenue from the Internet according to its president Carlo Malinconico.
Publishers in many countries have already complained about Google News, which became even more controversial when it started showing ads alongside search results on its US version in March. Among its most vehement opponents are Danish publishers, who have prevented Google from setting up a news site in Denmark, the Belgian publisher Copiepresse, which successfully sued Google. Spanish publishers are also fighting against aggregation. And so the debate continues: can a solution satisfactory to all parties ever be found?