Streetmap, which launched in 1997 as one of the first online mapping services, had claimed Google was engaging in “anticompetitive conduct” contrary to provisions of the Competition Act 1998 and that its launch of Google Maps in 2007 lead to a “dramatic loss of traffic” to Steetmap’s website.
The complaint revolved around the use of the so-called “big map” or “Maps OneBox” at the top of Google’s search results, launched in 2007, which displayed mapping results from Google Maps, not rivals. Streetmap argued that showing maps in search results, along with the launch of Google Maps for Android in 2008, saw Google promoting its own maps more favourably.
Mr Justice Roth ruled Google’s introduction of the new-style Maps OneBox in 2007 was “not reasonably likely appreciably to affect competition in the market for online maps” and that Google’s conduct was “objectively justified”.
A Google spokesperson said: “The court made clear that we’re focused on improving the quality of our search results. This decision promotes innovation.”
The case precedes upcoming probes by the European Union’s antitrust regulator into Google’s dominance of several sectors across shopping, travel and the company’s Android mobile-operating system.
Europe’s competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager specifically named Google’s alleged “misuse of a dominant position” as being of high priority, singling out Google Maps as one of the next stages of the EU’s investigations.
The High Court ruling covers similar ground to the EC’s investigation, although what impact, if any, it will have on Vestager’s investigation is unclear.
Streetmap director Kate Sutton said the company would be appealing the judgment on two grounds. She said: “First, this decision is unfair for small businesses. The hands of small businesses are now tied behind our backs. The decision makes it effectively impossible for a small business to bring a competition law complaint until it is too late, because the information required will simply not be known to them.
“By raising the standard of proof from probability to ‘appreciable effect’ a complainant needs to have information which will usually only be known to the dominant company.
“Second, Google has got away with non-compliance with its legal obligations. It admitted in the trial that it did not do a UK test when it introduced Google Maps. It instead only looked at its effects on the US market.
“Google put forward no evidence that it had turned its corporate mind to compliance with UK law at the time. We think that it is wrong for any company with the duty of a dominant company to take such an approach to compliance with the law.”
Tim Cowen, partner at law firm Preiskel & Co LLP, which acted for Streetmap, said: “This decision says that companies do not need to have evidence of compliance at the time, so long as they can find something later that may work as a defence.
“Streetmap’s business was destroyed. When Google introduced Google Maps in 2007 it did not check for effects outside the US and put forward no evidence that any check was performed for the UK. This decision raises a question what big companies need to do to show compliance with EU and UK law.”
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