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article imageItalian regulators investigate Google

By Bob Ewing     Aug 27, 2009 in Business
Italian competition authorities are investigating Google because publishers are complaining the Web company is denying them a fair share of online advertising revenue.
The Italian Federation of Newspaper Publishers has registered concern to the antitrust authority over a “lack of transparency” in Google’s search engine and Google News service.
The New York Times reports the Federation's concern focuses on Google's refusal to make known the criteria for ranking news articles or search results.
This means newspapers cannot shape their content to generate increased revenue from online advertising. Audience size informs ad revenue and is affected by search or Google News rankings.
“Publishers provide much of the content on the Internet, but they get nearly nothing for it,” said Carlo Malinconico, president of the Italian Federation of Newspaper Publishers. “This is not fair, in our opinion. Our feeling is we lose more than we gain.”
Google claims it only found out about the investigation Thursday morning when investigators showed up to search its offices in Milan.
“The Competition Authority has notified us of a claim against Google Italy,” the company said in a statement.
“We're finding out more details today, although we do know that it’s in relation to Google News, which drives significant traffic and new readers to newspaper websites.”
Italian publishers are not the first to complain about Google News; the comments usually state few readers will click through the blurbs to the publishers' own websites.
Codiepresse, a Belgian newspaper, successfully sued to prevent Google from including its newspapers’ articles in the news service.
While Denmark publishers joined forces to prevent Google from setting up a news site. They claimed this would have violated Danish copyright law.
Google says any publisher can opt out of having their content included in Google News — or the company’s search engine, for that matter, though few publishers want to take this step because search links often provide a majority of Web visitors.
Italian publishers are taking a different approach; they claim they are punished if they drop out of Google News, saying they are then automatically excluded from the search engine, too. Google says this is not the case.
The Italian Federation of Newspaper Publishers is considering other revenue-generating measures and a study of the possibilities for charging readers for access to newspaper websites.
Malinconico said “We don’t think that these measures will compensate for the loss of advertising, but it is good to react.”
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