A British couple who cost mighty tech giant Google £2bn and destroyed their business in the process have been speaking about their fight for the first time.
Adam and Shivaun Raff took Google all the way to Europe’s highest court as they sought to prove anti-competitive abuse.
Last June, after a near 11-year battle, Margrethe Vestager, the European Commissioner for Competition, finally ruled in their favour, fining Google £2.1bn.
But, for the Raffs, the fight goes on – even if Foundem, their original price comparison site they established, is mothballed.
The married couple from Berkshire launched Foundem in June 2006. Adam, who was running the European weather-forecasting service’s supercomputers, and Shivaun, a software consultant, believed Foundem could tap into price information on everything from clothes to holiday flights that a simple Google search missed.
However, within days, their troubles began. They noticed Foundem was being penalised by Google and downgraded for every search except its own name. It practically disappeared from the internet.
“We didn’t kid ourselves for one second,” Adam tells Wired. “If Google didn’t lift this penalty, we’d be dead.” Google never responded to the Raffs.
In December 2008, Foundem was named the UK’s top comparison site by Channel 5’s The Gadget Show.
They believed this would validate their argument to Google, but it still refused to cooperate.
It was clear, they told Wired, that Google was not going to lift Foundem’s penalty or even acknowledge it was doing it.
Google has regularly been accused of abusing its search engine monopoly to promote its own online comparison service – Google Product Search – at the expense of smaller price comparison websites.
“It was clear that we’d have to go to war,” Adam, 51, said. Shivaun, 49, added: “That was the point where we said to ourselves, ‘F*** this. Google are bullies. This is wrong. We are going to win.’”
They took their case to the European Commission for Competition in Brussels and were later joined in the case by Yelp, TripAdvisor, Expedia and Deutsche Telecom.
And in June last year, Google was handed the largest anti-trust penalty ever issued to a single company.
The ruling is being appealed, so the fight will likely go on for some time to come.
As for their business, the Foundem website is still accessible via a search but visitors cannot use it.
A message greets you with a “temporary suspension of service” and an explanation of the Google fight.
But, as Adam told Wired: “It would have been wrong to back out. So we just did the right thing.”