Did Google deliberately try to reduce the rankings of ProtonMail, a tiny rival to Google’s own Gmail service? Almost certainly not. Even Proton doesn’t seem to believe that. But the case highlights how Google’s problems with publisher, business and webmaster communication can hurt it as it faces challenges on antitrust grounds.
What happened with Proton
Proton Technologies is a Swiss-based company offering a secure, encrypted email service called ProtonMail. It might be an attractive alternative for those who worry a service like Gmail isn’t private enough, either from government requests or Google’s own ad uses.
Last November, Proton noticed that they were seeing a drop in daily sign-ups for ProtonMail. Wondering why, the company started looking into its rankings on Google and determined there was a problem. In particular, ProtonMail wasn’t showing in the top results for “secure email” or “encrypted email,” as it assumed was the case in the past.
Proton then suffered a problem that’s not unique for businesses and publishers. It had no guaranteed way to get an official answer from Google if there was a problem.