Google accused of making it harder to search for rival

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Google has been accused of taking advantage of its market dominance to make it harder to search for a rival email service.

Tuta Mail – which says it has more than ten million users worldwide – alleges that, since March, it hasn’t appeared prominently in Google searches for “encrypted email.”

The company has made a complaint to the EU claiming that Google – which has its own hugely popular Gmail service – has damaged a rival business.

Google has denied the accusation, insisting Tuta remains “easily accessible” via its search engine.

In its complaint, Tuta notes that its “ranking” – how high up Google’s search results it appears – fell dramatically in March 2024 for searches such as “secure email.”

As a result, monthly visits to pages on its website have dropped by almost 90%, Tuta’s formal complaint to the EU alleges.

“At the beginning of March 2024 Google suddenly stopped displaying our website for thousands of keywords,” it wrote in the complaint.

Following the change, traffic to its website only came from searches mentioning the name of its products.

“Google must stop this unfair limitation of showing our website in search results immediately,” Matthias Pfau, co-founder of Tuta Mail said.

Google’s algorithm uses a number of factors, external to determine the ranking of search results. When the algorithm is updated, it can have a big impact on businesses that rely on the visits search sends to their websites.

There was an update in early March, as a result of which Google warned there would be more fluctuations in rankings than usual.

But it denies its updates are intended to favour any particular website, including its own.

“Search ranking updates absolutely do not aim to preference Google products, or any other particular website. The email provider in question is easily accessible globally on Search,” Google wrote.

Gmail has more than a billion users worldwide. Tuta argues that “niche” email services such as its own will not be able to grow into serious competitors if they don’t appear for common search terms.

In a blog post, external the firm accused the company of breaching a new EU law that came into force in March, which designated some large firms, including Google, as “gatekeepers” subject to additional legal restrictions.

This includes not treating their own services more favourably than rivals.

“Google in its role as a gatekeeper is impacting the profits and marketability of our private email service Tuta Mail – a direct competitor to Google’s Gmail, which goes against the Digital Markets Act”, the company wrote.

But, according to a Google spokesperson, Tuta ranks above Gmail for a range of email-related searches, including ones that don’t mention it as a brand and those it referred to in its blog.

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