Search engine giant Google has tweaked its product line-up in South Africa, in accordance with the recommendations made by the Competition Commission (CompCom) to address the company’s alleged anti-competitive behaviour.
This is according to Dr Alistair Mokoena, country director of Google South Africa, speaking during an interview with ITWeb TV.
In the wide-ranging interview, Mokoena discusses the tech giant’s response to the findings of the CompCom inquiry, the Equiano undersea cable, the arrival of a Google Cloud Platform data centre in SA, the impact of artificial intelligence, the prospects of the Google Pixel smartphone making its way to our shores, and the drive to enhance local skills.
In July, the CompCom found the dominance and business models of tech giants such as Google distort platform competition, as small and new platforms struggle for visibility and customer acquisition.
The primary objective of the inquiry was to prevent technology platforms from disadvantaging small businesses, and provide them with a fair chance to succeed and grow.
In its Online Intermediation Platforms Market Inquiry report, the competition watchdog sought to address this distortion and recommended several remedial actions.
According to Mokoena, Google is happy with the outcome of the inquiry, and has started implementing some of the changes recommended by the regulator.
He notes that since the report was published, the internet search behemoth has undertaken several product adjustments.
“If small businesses don’t have large marketing or advertising budgets, how do they get prominence on the search results page? If somebody enters a search query, how do you ensure small businesses are not disadvantaged? So, we came up with a couple of interventions there,” he says.
“One of them was creating a special unit or a carousel on the search results page to ensure small businesses gain prominence.”
In the report, the competition watchdog said on organic results, the internet search giant must introduce a new platform sites unit (or carousel) to display smaller South African platforms relevant to the search (eg, travel platforms in a travel search) free of charge, and augment organic results with a content-rich display.
On paid results, the CompCom said Google must provide R180 million in advertising credits for small platforms to use in customer acquisition, along with free training to optimise advertising campaigns.
It stated that Google must also provide a further R150 million in training, product support and other measures for SME and black-owned online firms to offset the competitive disadvantages they experience on Google Search.
“We have created a fund to ensure we can stimulate economic growth in the SMME sector,” Mokoena adds.
“We’ve also agreed to create a fund to provide product credits so that small businesses are able to tap into Google Cloud, into Search, into Workspace, into all these platforms and ads. There is a lot we have agreed to implement with the Competition Commission.
“It’s been an interesting journey of understanding what matters to regulators and how we can use technology to respond to that.
“Ultimately, we have the same goal. Google’s mission is to organise the world’s information, and make it accessible and helpful to society. And sometimes you do need outside parties to say: hey, have you thought about this? That’s how we get better.”
According to Mokoena, technology always moves at a fast pace and regulations fall behind.
“I think in the normal order of things, innovation comes first and then regulation catches up. We’re finding ourselves in a similar position where regulators around the world are getting to understand how the digital economy works, how technology helps drive the digital economy, and I think in that we’re finding each other.”