Displayed on the facades of hotels, these little stars are worth gold.
And they will cost 1.1 million euros to Google, which, suspected of "deceptive commercial practice", has just agreed to settle a transaction fine.
Everything starts from the complaint of several French hoteliers.
"The first reported to Google this discrepancy between their ranking and the official Atout France ranking in 2018, then they turned to us", explains the Directorate-General for Competition, Consumption and Fraud Control (DGCCRF) .
They are not very numerous "but enough and from various regions of France to trigger a national investigation", explains the gendarme of consumption.
Hoteliers complain that they do not have as many stars on the American search engine as they actually have, according to Atout France.
This organization is the only one officially authorized to award stars - from one to five - to accommodation in France, whether it is hotels but also tourist residences or campsites.
Restaurants: should we trust the reviews on Google, TripAdvisor, La Fourchette…?
During its investigation, which took place between 2019 and 2020, the Fraud Repression has scrutinized the classification of 7,500 establishments.
At the end of this automated data collection, supported by algorithms, the agents observed that "Google had replaced the Atout France classification with a classification established according to its own criteria".
One third of the hotels concerned
Not only, around 30% of establishments were assigned by Google an incorrect number of stars, not corresponding to that in Atout France, but in a very large majority of cases, the number indicated by Google was lower than in the ranking official.
Damaging for hoteliers, this practice is also particularly “for consumers, misled about the level of services they could expect when booking accommodation,” underlines the DGCCRF, whose National Investigation Service transmits a file. at the Paris Public Prosecutor's Office.
Its conclusions are clear: “the ranking of tourist accommodation by the online platform Google was a deceptive business practice”.
With the agreement of the public prosecutor, the companies Google Ireland Ltd and Google France were offered a transaction comprising the payment of 1.1 million euros and the communication by the DGCCRF on this decision.
Five stars without bathroom
UMIH, the majority professional union among hoteliers, applauds the award.
"I am delighted," reacts Laurent Duc, the president of the hotel industry within the UMIH.
We had made reports in 2008. No one can claim stars without going through Atout France, which awards them according to 250 criteria.
On Google, we had hotels with five stars when they didn't even have one bathroom per room!
According to Laurent Duc, this fine “is a great victory.
France and Switzerland invented the hotel classification in the aftermath of World War II.
It has value.
This is not a fad.
Google may well put on little tulips or cowboy hats, if it suits him, but not stars.
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When contacted, the platform stresses that "this is not a conviction, but a transaction with the DGCCRF".
The Google spokesperson recalls that since September 2019, "we have made the necessary changes to reflect only the official French classification of hotels on Google Search and Maps".
According to the company, prior to this change, the ranking reflected a rating assigned based on information available from various third-party sources online (for example, information on the Internet, hotels, or official Atout France source).
At present, the ranking reflects only the official label.