Google has agreed to pay a €1.1 million fine over misleading star ratings for hotels in France.
The tech giant had been applying its own (algorithmic) system of ratings for hotels applied via its search engine and on Google Maps. But back in 2019, following a number of complaints by hoteliers, the French national competition and consumer watchdog (DGCCRF) instigated an investigation into this propriety rating system.
The probe revealed that the tech giant had replaced the standard classification system of the public tourist board (Atout France) with a star rating system powered by its own criteria -- and which it had applied to more than 7,500 establishments.
Safe to say Google's concept of a "five star" hotel was not the same as the Atout France version. And the consumer watchdog found that Google's presentation for classifying tourist accommodation -- including identical use of the term "stars" on the same scale from 1 to 5 -- to be confusing for consumers.
"This practice was particularly damaging for consumers, misled about the level of services what they could expect when booking accommodation. It also resulted in prejudice for hoteliers whose establishments were wrongly presented as lower ranked than in the official ranking of Atout France," the watchdog writes in a press release on the sanction (which we've translated from French).
The DGCCRF concluded that Google had engaged in a deceptive business practice -- and, with the public prosecutor, it proposed the sanction announced today on Google Ireland (the tech giant's European HQ) and Google France.
As well as agreeing to pay the fine, Google has changed hotel star ratings in France -- agreeing to display the official Atout France ratings. So tourists in France can be confident that a five-star hotel they see on Google Maps has an official standard attached to it which can't be influenced by any of the usual online growth hacking tactics.
A spokesperson for Google confirmed the conclusion of the DGCCRF's action, telling TechCrunch: "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.”