Stepstone confirmes it filed a complaint to the European Commission in 2018, ahead of the launch of Google for Jobs. Picture: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC
Stepstone confirmes it filed a complaint to the European Commission in 2018, ahead of the launch of Google for Jobs. Picture: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC

Berlin/Frankfurt — A leading German jobs portal hit out on Thursday at Google's launch of its own job-search product in Europe's largest economy, saying the US company had abused its dominant position to grab an overnight market lead.

Stepstone, owned by publisher Axel Springer, said the number of inquiries it was receiving via the world's leading search engine had fallen since Google for Jobs went live in late May.

The potential hit to Springer’s jobs arm, which accounted for more than a quarter of first-quarter core profits, threatens its strategy of growing its digital classifieds business to offset weakness in its legacy media titles.

The Berlin publisher is also currently holding talks with US private equity investor KKR with an option to take the company private under discussion.

A spokesman for Stepstone confirmed it filed a complaint to the European Commission in 2018, ahead of the launch of Google for Jobs, saying Google would give prominence to its own jobs aggregator when displaying search results.

“This is happening through (Google's) market power. We consider this to be anticompetitive,” the Stepstone spokesman said on Thursday.

Google, the main operating unit of Alphabet, and other Silicon Valley titans are already facing heightened scrutiny in the US.

The US justice department is preparing an investigation to determine whether Google broke antitrust law by preferring its own products in search results, unfairly sidelining third-parties who stand to lose out by effectively becoming invisible to internet users.

In Europe, the company has been hit by a series of multibillion-dollar antitrust penalties, most recently a €1.49bn fine for bias in the brokering of search ads.

Google's Berlin-based spokesman did not respond to calls and an e-mail.

Sistrix, a company specialising in search engine optimisation, says Google for Jobs became the leader in German jobs searches immediately after its launch.

A typical jobs search typed into a Google browser window returns three top “hits”, with links to results from other portals pushed lower down the page, Sistrix’s Johannes Beus said in a blog post.

While Stepstone has compensated for the loss of traffic from Google by using social media and other marketing channels, smaller portals could be harder hit, the spokesman said.

Analyst Sarah Simon at Berenberg Bank said the displacement of Stepstone, which has not partnered with Google, could undermine its pricing power with employers because it will not be able to guarantee the same visibility to job seekers.

“With KKR examining the potential to take a strategic stake in Axel Springer, there is clearly some support for the shares,” said Berenberg’s Simon, who has a hold rating on Springer stock. “However, should that interest fail to materialise, we see further downside.”

Springer's share price was unchanged in afternoon trade in Frankfurt at €55.45, more or less the level reached last week when they jumped 20% on news of the KKR talks.

Reuters