Google hit with $1.3m fine in France over misleading hotel ratings

French consumer watchdog finds US company guilty of posting deceptive classifications

FILE PHOTO: The brand logo of Alphabet Inc's Google is seen outside the company's office in Beijing, China, August 8, 2018.  REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo
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Google was fined €1.1 million ($1.3m) by French authorities for misleading consumers with its ratings of hotels and tourist destinations.

An investigation by France's finance ministry and consumer watchdog the Directorate General for Competition, Consumption and the Repression of Fraud said the Alphabet-owned company posted misleading rankings and classifications on its search engine and Google Maps.

Google France and Google Ireland, the European headquarters of the US technology company, agreed to pay the fine.

"This practice was particularly damaging for consumers ... misled about the level of services they could expect when booking accommodation," the DGCCRF said.

“It also resulted in prejudice for hoteliers whose establishments were wrongly presented as lower ranked than on the official ranking of Atout France.”

Atout France is the country's tourism development arm.

Complaints by French hoteliers surfaced in 2019 after Google replaced Atout France's official classification system with its own ranking system. Both used a "star" rating. Google then applied this to more than 7,500 establishments.

In its report, the consumer watchdog said it considered the “nature of the information communicated on the classification of tourist accommodation” as deceptive.

However, when an inquiry began in September 2019, Google corrected this and returned to using Atout France's official rankings.

“We have now settled with the DGCCRF and made the necessary changes to only reflect the official French star rating for hotels on Google Maps and Search,” a Google executive told TechCrunch.

Google has previously faced trouble in France over the amount of tax it pays. In September 2019, the company agreed to pay €945m to French tax authorities to settle a long-running tax dispute.

In March 2019, it was also fined €1.5 billion by the EU for practices deemed to be anti-competitive. This followed previous anti-trust disputes in 2017 and 2018 that led to the company being slapped with total fines of €6.8bn.