Google Must Answer EU Antitrust Concerns Over Search
May 21, 2012

Google Must Answer EU Antitrust Concerns Over Search

Peter Suciu for

Is it possible to have a monopoly on search? The European Union believes it is, as complaints have been made that Google favors its own products when serving search results.

On Monday it was reported that Google now has only “a matter of weeks” to allay those and other concerns that it is abusing its dominant position in the search engine market. European Union anti-trust investigators asked Google to quickly offer “remedies” to satisfy Brussels´ concerns that the search giant has abused its top position. If it fails to do so it could face heavy penalties.

“If Google comes up with remedies” within “a matter of weeks,” Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said during a news conference on Monday, the EU would find a way to negotiate “instead of having to pursue proceedings and fines,” reports the AFP news agency

But would such penalties even matter to Google? The company seems to have come out on top in its lawsuit with Oracle, with the latter alleging that Google stole nine lines of Java code to bring its Android handset operating system to market. That case saw Oracle suing Google for $6 billion in damages.

But this time Google isn´t just going up against a rival company, this time they´re going up against the European Commission, which has spent a year and a half in its investigation. In that time the EU has pinpointed four specific areas of concern and has demanded that these problems do need to be dealt with quickly — in part because the high-tech industry changes very rapidly.

To this end it is a case of technology outpacing legislation. And this time those who work to enforce the law are trying to react quickly.

The EU´s concerns were the result of complaints brought on by Google rivals, and now center on how the technology company deals with and controls search results, as well as how that content is used and how advertising is run on Google´s search engines.

The European Commission launched its antitrust investigation in November 2010, and began looking into those allegations. Among the early complainant was Microsoft-owned Internet portal Ciao, and now a total of 14 plaintiffs are attached to the case, which continues to make international headlines.

In a prepared statement on Monday Almunia noted that Google had the chance to outline several steps to address the claims rather than force formal action.

“Should this process fail to deliver a satisfactory set of remedies, the ongoing formal proceedings will of course continue,” said Alumnia.

The EU investigation also noted four main areas where Google practices could be “considered as abuses of dominance.”

Among these is “in its general search results on the web, Google displays links to its own vertical search services;” the second concern “relates to the way Google copies content from competing vertical search services and uses it in its own offerings;” the third concern “relates to agreements between Google and partners on the websites of which Google delivers search advertisements;” and finally the fourth concern “relates to restrictions that Google puts to the portability of online search advertising campaigns from its platform AdWords to the platforms of competitors.”

This is not the first time that the EU has taken on a major player with deep online roots. The EU previously spent almost a decade battling Microsoft in a series of related cases. This time it appeared that the EU is looking for a speedier resolution or a quicker negotiated outcome in this case.

Even if things can be worked out in Europe this won´t be the end of Google´s problems. The search engine giant faces similar antitrust investigation by the Federal Trade Commission in the United States.