Google’s shopping comparison draws Justice Department scrutiny

WASHINGTON: US antitrust enforcers are examining Google’s conduct in the online shopping comparison market as they continue their probe of the search giant.

Richard Stables, chief executive officer of the shopping comparison site Kelkoo Group, said he spent more than an hour with Justice Department officials on Thursday to discuss how Alphabet Inc allegedly hurt his European-based business.

The meetings show that the Justice Department, which opened its investigation of Google with a document seeking a wide swath of information on the company, has an interest in at least one of three landmark European antitrust cases.

A Justice Department spokesman said the department has had numerous productive meetings with third parties but declined to comment on specific discussions.

Stables said he also met with congressional staff members for lawmakers on antitrust committees in the House and Senate earlier this week.

In 2017, the European Union fined Google €2.4 billion and ordered the company to stop promoting its own shopping search results over those of competitors.

Stables, who has been trying to convince the EU to toughen its remedy, outlined to the US antitrust enforcers what he said was harm to consumers stemming from Google’s practices.

Google’s practice of elevating its own services raises prices for consumers by limiting access to rival shopping comparison sites, Stables said.

In the meetings, Stables said he raised concerns that Google could squash not just other European comparison sites, but also travel companies, searches for local businesses and services, and other firms in the US.

US companies that fear Google have been reluctant to speak out, he said, but he was willing to help enforcers in Washington understand the market because the political moment made him more optimistic about getting a remedy.

In addition to the Justice Department and Congress, 48 state attorneys general are probing Google, and some Democratic presidential candidates have ramped up their rhetoric on the dominance of tech giants.

The states began their investigation by focusing on Google’s position in online ads, but some states have recently broadened their focus.

Google spokesman Jose Castaneda directed reporters to a September blog post when Google Chief Legal Officer Kent Walker pledged to work with antitrust officials.