In 2007, Google launched a system of displaying results to a question in relation to map queries, in which Google Maps was displayed as the first response to the query. This included a thumbnail map which the user could click on, which was an extract from Google Maps. Clicking on the thumbnail therefore took the user directly to the relevant Google Maps page. Subsequently, the dimensions of the thumbnail map were enlarged so that it spread across the page.
The other hyperlinks that the search bought up were also displayed, and the rankings of the hyperlinks were not changed. In effect, however, the Google Maps thumbnail resulted in these other hyperlinks being moved down the page.
It is on this basis that Streetmap, the Claimant, alleged that Google Ireland and Google UK had abused its position in the online search advertising markets by the prominent and preferential display of their own online map service, and therefore restricting competition from suppliers of online maps in Great Britain. Streetmap claimed that Google had abused its dominant position by:
- Bundling Google Search with Google Map, thereby depriving users of an undistorted choice of online mapping services, and by giving Google Maps an unfair advantage, which produced discriminatory effects;
- By displaying the Google Maps thumbnail at the top of the search results page, and displaying other online street map providers lower down the page.
The court ruled that in order for a defendant to infringe the prohibition of abuse of a dominant position, it had to hold a dominant position in the relevant market, by its conduct abuse that position and be unable to show that the conduct was objectively justified.
Mr Justice Roth found that Google’s actions were not likely to considerably affect competition in the market for online maps. If, contrary to this finding, that it would have such an effect, Google’s conduct in this instance was objectively justified. Further, it was held that in any event, no conduct complained of was attributable to Google Ireland and Google UK. Accordingly, Google had not committed an abuse of its dominant position.