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A website that accused Google of abusing its position in the search market by “driving traffic” to Google Maps has lost its High Court action.  Streetmap said it had a “dramatic loss of traffic” following the launch of Google’s “big map” service at the top of its search results page in 2007.

But in the ruling the judge said that, on the assumption Google held a “dominant position”, it did not commit an abuse. Streetmap said it would appeal. In response to certain geographic queries, a clickable image from Google Maps – known as Maps OneBox – is displayed at the top of its search engine results pages.

UK-based Streetmap, which launched its online mapping services in 1997, argued that by having the clickable image and by the consequent relegation of a link to Streetmap lower down the page, Google was abusing its dominant position in the online search market.

The company had asked Mr Justice Roth to rule that Google had engaged in “anti-competitive conduct” contrary to provisions of the Competition Act 1998.

But the judge said the launch of Maps OneBox by Google was “not reasonably likely appreciably to affect competition” in the online map market, ruling that it was not important enough to be noticed.

He added that, in any event, Google’s conduct was “objectively justified”. Speaking after the hearing, Streetmap director Kate Sutton said the decision was “unfair for small businesses”.

“The decision makes it effectively impossible for a small business to bring a competition law complaint until it is too late, because the information required will simply not be known to them,” she said.

“By raising the standard of proof from probability to ‘appreciable effect’ a complainant needs to have information which will usually only be known to the dominant company.”

Tim Cowen, partner at law firm Preiskel & Co LLP, which acted for Streetmap, said: “This decision says that companies do not need to have evidence of compliance at the time, so long as they can find something later that may work as a defence.

“When Google introduced Google Maps in 2007 it did not check for effects outside the US and put forward no evidence that any check was performed for the UK. This decision raises a question what big companies need to do to show compliance with EU and UK law.”

A Google spokesman said: “The court made clear that we’re focused on improving the quality of our search results. This decision promotes innovation.”

The ruling comes after the European Union filed a complaint against Google in April last year over its alleged anti-competitive behaviour.

The firm has said it “strongly disagreed” with the allegations and looked forward to making its case.

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