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Google Forced to Pay $1 Million For ‘Misleading’ French Hotel Rankings

Google accepts fine for replacing official star ratings with their own. An investigation found Google's search engine results were 'misleading'.

Google Forced to Pay $1 Million For ‘Misleading’ French Hotel Rankings

France’s Directorate General for Competition, Consumption and the Repression of Fraud (DGCCRF) launched an investigation into Google’s hotel rankings to monitor the fairness and nature of information, resulting in a fine of €1.1 million.

The investigation was launched in 2019 and continued into 2020 after French hoteliers complained about the tech giant’s star rating system.

Seven thousand five hundred establishments were monitored before Google was fined for displaying ‘misleading’ rankings.

What Was Misleading

Google’s algorithm included information from other hotel websites and Atout France’s star ratings to rank the hotel sites from one to five stars on Google Maps and their search engine.

Atout France is the country’s only official ranking system; therefore, when Google replaced this with an identical star rating system based on its own criteria, it was considered by the DGCCRF to be misleading.

A translated version of the official report from the DGCCRG stated that:

“This practice was particularly damaging to consumers, misled about the level of services they could expect when booking accommodation. It was also detrimental to hoteliers whose establishments were wrongly presented as lower ranked than in the official classification of Atout France.”

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Google Changed Their Practices

Google Ireland Ltd and Google France, who were the subject of the investigation, corrected their practices in 2019. The results now only showcase the star rating as specified by Atout France.

Example of Google's star rating system for French hoteliers

Despite the changes, the Paris Public Prosecutor’s Office consented to impose a €1.1 million fine to be paid by Google.

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Modern History of Google Services for Hoteliers

Google has been improving their services for hoteliers generally in the past three years.

In February 2018, Google added the ability to book hotels directly in the SERPs.

Google began grading hotels based on their proximity to local amenities, transit, and airport access in August. Later that month, the tech giant also included price insights in its search results.

October brought with it a redesigned desktop experience specifically for hotel searches.

In 2019, Google made it possible for hoteliers to customize available amenities in Google My Business. Whether this was in response to the investigations in France is unknown.

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In March, Google used machine learning to show hotel searchers rates that were much lower than usual.

The most recent hotel-specific update was in August 2020, whereby Google’s Travel Portal included pandemic relevant information.

Google agreeing to pay the fine and updating its service shows their willingness to ensure its services are as relevant, accurate, and accessible as possible.

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Rebekah Dunne

Content executive & SEJ news writer at Sweet Digital

Rebekah has six years experience in the world of digital. When she isn't writing news stories for Search Engine Journal ... [Read full bio]

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