On March 15th, Yelp is celebrating World Consumer Rights Day. On this day in 1962, former US President John F. Kennedy made a historic speech in which he extolled four basic consumer rights: the right to be informed, the right to choose, the right to be protected, and the right to be heard. These rights are still highly relevant in the digital age, especially to those who use sites like Yelp as a resource.
Celebrating World Consumer Rights Day is a chance to urge that the rights of all consumers are respected and protected, and to protest against market abuses which undermine those rights.
With so much information available online, consumers are increasingly relying on online reviews in their decision-making process. Review sites like Yelp have worked hard to provide information and empower consumers, bringing transparency to the market, and making it easier to research products and services best suited to their needs.
Online search serves as the key pathway by which consumers discover online businesses and exercise their right to choose products and services based on the merits of price, quality and relevance. Search engines, therefore have a special responsibility to ensure that all businesses, no matter their size, have equal access to consumers, and that consumers can exercise their right to choose the most relevant product or service.
However, the consumer’s ability to find the most relevant information online has been severely hindered by the anticompetitive practices of the dominant online search engine, Google. When consumers search for something as personally important as a pediatrician in New York, a hotel in São Paulo or a barber in Copenhagen, Google promotes a more limited set of results drawn from its own specialized search service. Instead of showing the most relevant information on the web, Google exclusively relies on its own restricted ecosystem to respond to users’ local-intent queries, thus restricting access to third party content.
Google’s unfair practices have come to the attention of authorities around the world. The European Union and India have already found Google in breach of antitrust principles, and authorities in Brazil and South Korea are similarly investigating Google’s anti-competitive practices. In the US, the Federal Trade Commission terminated its investigation of search bias by Google back in 2013. However, the scrutiny provided by the EU authorities, coupled with overwhelming evidence of consumer harm, should compel the FTC to undertake action to protect American consumers from search manipulation.
By giving companies a fair chance to compete on their merits, without being pushed out of markets by unfair practices or subsidized rivals, consumers are able to enjoy the benefits of innovation. Effective competition makes sure that companies have an incentive to invest, innovate, keep up with their rivals and come up with new and better products for consumers.
Consumers are the final beneficiaries from strong enforcement of competition rules. They will also be the ultimate losers from any lack of competition, resulting in increased costs, less choice or lower service quality.
This World Consumer Rights Day, join us in calling for an end to market abuse, and for consumers to be given right to choose without search manipulation.