The South African Competition Commission has proposed imposing radical changes on Google’s search results in the country.
The Commission wants the search engine operator to disclose to South African users which search results are paid for and possibly end its status as the default search engine on smartphones sold in the country.
Recently, the commission published the provisional findings of its “online platforms market inquiry”, some of which could significantly impact major players in South Africa’s online ecosystem.
In a statement, the commission said, “The inquiry has found that Google Search plays a vital role in directing consumers to the different platforms, and in this way shapes platform competition.”
“The prevalence of paid search at the top of the search results page without adequate identifiers as advertising raises platform customer acquisition costs and favours large, often global platforms. Furthermore, preferential placement of their specialist search units also distorts competition in Google’s favour. And so the inquiry has found provisionally that paid search results be “prominently labelled as advertising, with borders and shading to be clearer to consumers, and that the top of the page is reserved for organic, or natural, search results based on relevance only, uninfluenced by payments,” the statement read.
According to industry analysis, the Competition Commission is taking direct aim at Google’s business model, which is premised on delivering keyword-based advertising and relevant advertising at the top of search results.
The commission has also recommended that Google “allows competitors to compete for prominence in a search by having their specialist units and with no guaranteed positions for Google specialist units”.