NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Alphabet Inc’s Google has said an Indian antitrust ruling that found it was guilty of search bias could cause “irreparable” harm and reputational loss to the company, according to a legal document reviewed by Reuters.
The Competition Commission of India (CCI) in February fined Google $20 million for abusing its position in online web search and also slammed the company for preventing its partners from using competing search services.
After the ruling, Google had said the verdict raised only “narrow concerns”, but in its plea challenging the CCI’s ruling the search giant signalled the impact could be far greater.
The order, the company said, “requires Google to change the way it conducts business in India on a lasting basis and the way it designs its search results page in India”, according to a copy of its plea which was seen exclusively by Reuters.
The CCI, among other things, had ordered Google to stop imposing restrictions on its direct search agreements with other publishers.
Allowing the CCI’s findings to be implemented “without appellate scrutiny would cause Google irreparable reputational loss”, the company said, while seeking a stay on the ruling.
A Google spokesman in India declined to comment.
Google last month obtained a partial stay on the ruling from India’s company law tribunal, which allowed it to deposit only a small part of the imposed penalty.
The Indian antitrust tussle is the latest regulatory setback for Google. Last year, the European Commission slapped a record $2.8 billion fine on the company for demoting rival offerings. Google has appealed against the order.
The antitrust battle in India is set to intensify as local matchmaking website Matrimony.com - which first brought the case in 2012 - has also appealed against the CCI ruling as it believes Google has gotten off too lightly.
On the issue of search agreements, the CCI in its Feb. 8 order said: “By restricting websites from partnering with competing search services, Google was denying its competitors access to the search business and further marginalizing competitors.”
The “volume of business generated through these agreements is substantial” for Google, the order said.
In its plea challenging the ruling, Google said the CCI wrongly ruled that such agreements violate Indian competition law.
“If Google is restricted from entering into certain types of contracts while the appellate review is conducted, Google will be irreparably harmed,” the company said in the plea, without elaborating.
The appeal will next be heard on May 28.
($1 = 67.7200 Indian rupees)
Reporting by Aditya Kalra and Aditi Shah; Editing by Euan Rocha and Alexandra Hudson