google

With India the latest to question its practices, Google says it's already provided answers

Search giant says that regulators in the US, Germany, Brazil and elsewhere have already dismissed similar charges.

It's lonely at the top. Search giant Google is a truly massive company. It employs more than 53,000 people, has a market capitalisation of more than $420 billion and could easily swallow up a couple of small countries, going by GDP alone. It's also utterly dominant: More than two-thirds of all searches on the internet worldwide go through Google, with the tech firm actually having more than 90% market share in many countries.

That means it's very successful. But it also means its influence is massive. Google to a large extent controls what we think of the world, even as it insists that it "won't be evil" while doing so. Google is so big that most people think of it as the internet itself. And it's so influential that some believe it is helping decide the results of elections.

While it's political inclinations might be the stuff of conspiracy theories, allegations of abusing its dominant position in the market are all too real. The Competition Commission of India's director-general last week filed a report accusing Google of ensuring sites that pertain to its own products, like Google Finance and Google Hotel Finder, turn up first on its search engine.

Abuse of dominant position

These charges levelled by the Competition Commission have been corroborated by 30 other companies including Flipkart and MakeMyTrip, which have also alleged that the sponsored links thrown after a Google search are mostly related to the amount of money a company is spending on advertising with Google. What this means is that a search for a company could show up its competitor’s result at the top as the sponsored result if it has been paying a lot of money for advertising.

If proven guilty, the company might be fined with up to 10% of its total income which was $14 billion in 2014, according to the Economic Times. The director-general of the commission, hence, reportedly concluded that Google’s practices are counter-productive to innovation as it gets expensive for the listed websites to keep advertising in order to be seen in the search results.

The company, however, believes that it is in full compliance of the Indian law.

“We’re currently reviewing this report from the CCI’s ongoing investigation," a Google spokesperson said. "We continue to work closely with the CCI and remain confident that we comply fully with India’s competition laws. Regulators and courts around the world, including in the U.S., Germany, Taiwan, Egypt and Brazil, have looked into and found no concerns on many of the issues raised in this report.”

Google has already faced similar charges in the US and Europe.

After a five-year investigation, Google has been charged with rigging search results for shoppers by the European Union, which alleges that the company is moving its own product listings at the top and undermining other websites. If it indeed turns out that Google used its dominance in the market, the EU regulator could fine it up to 6.2 billion euros like it did with Intel in 2009 for 1.09 billion euros.

Accusations and settlements

In 2013, when the US Federal Trade Commission chose not to continue prosecuting Google over antitrust concerns after the company offered to voluntarily make changes to the way its search engine works and that proved enough to keep it out of trouble.

Others have also come out arguing that Google search results doles out “inferior content” to consumers, with this study by listings company Yelp claiming the search engine was abusing its position.

“By prominently displaying Google content in response to search queries, Google is able to leverage its dominance in search to gain customers for this content,” the paper noted. “We find that users are 45% more likely to engage with universal search results (i.e. prominently displayed map results on Google) when the results are organically determined. This suggests that by leveraging dominance in search to promote its internal content, Google is reducing social welfare, ­ leaving consumers with lower quality results and worse matches.”

In India, the company has already been fined Rs 1 crore last year for failing to comply with the information requests by the Competition Commission.

Google has claimed that its search results are similar to that of Facebook and Twitter. But not everyone was sold on the argument.

According to the Economic Times, the director-general of the Competition Commission said that the argument was invalid since those are social networks and not search engines. Facebook too, in its submission to the Competition Commission, claimed that the nature of Google’s searches which often span across the web is quite different from searching within a social network.

Algorithmic defence

In 2012, amidst an antitrust investigation by the EU and calls for a similar probe in the US to make the company reveal how its search algorithms work, Google jumped to defend itself and claimed that its algorithms are able to keep sponsored and organic search results separate.

Senior Vice President of Engineering Amit Singhal said that it wasn’t manipulating its algorithms for websites but to provide users with a better experience. “Our algorithms are always designed to give users the most relevant results,” he wrote. “Sometimes the best result isn’t a website, but a map, a weather forecast, a fact, a quick answer, or specialized image, shopping, flight, or movie results.”

Even though the company was far from admitting its culpability, it said that all other search engines such as Yahoo and Bing do the same thing.

What riled many, however, was the nonchalance with which Singhal, in the same blogpost claimed that the users are free to switch to other search websites as they deem fit and even provided links to other search engines.

“And if users don’t like our results, they can try Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, or even Google Minus Google,” the blog stated.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.