Google Braced For Formal EU Antitrust Charges

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

European Competition Commissioner reportedly ready to slap Google with formal antitrust charges

The European competition commissioner is reportedly laying the ground for formal antitrust charges against Google.

The antitrust investigation of the search engine has been a very protracted affair indeed, after the European Commission launched its investigation back in November 2010, into whether Google abused its dominant position in the online search market.

Lengthy Probe

The EC probe into Google’s search products came it received complaints from a number of its competitors including Microsoft, TripAdvisor, Nokia and Expedia.

Essentially, these companies claimed that Google had abused its dominant position in the online search market to shut out rivals in areas such as price comparison, navigation and advertising. It is also investigating whether Google has been “scraping” content from rivals’ sites, and unfairly restricting advertisers and software developers who do business with the search giant.

Google of course dominates the search engine market in Europe, and although it is not illegal to hold a monopoly, it is forbidden to abuse it.

GoogleIn the course of negotiations Google missed several deadlines, tabled a total of three different proposals and even the company’s chairman Eric Schmidt got involved. In July 2012, it emerged that Google agreed to add Android to the list of platforms on which it would redesign the search algorithms.

And then in early 2014, it was reported that Google had finally reached a settlement agreement with the competition commissioner. But that prompted a howl of protests from rivals, forcing the EC to “revise” its decision.

Last September the chief executive of News Corporation Robert Thomson urged the EC to crack down further on Google. In his letter, Thomson lambasted Google and said it was contemptuous of intellectual property and routinely adjusted its search results in none-objective manner.

Prior to that in April 2014, the CEO of Axel Springer, launched a scathing attack on Google. Mathias Dopfner accused Google of creating an “electronic superstate”, as well as operating a protection racket and a ‘global network monopoly‘ in the digital market.

Official Charges?

And now according to the Wall Street Journal, the European Commission is readying official charges against Google.

The WSJ reported that the EC has been asking companies that filed complaints against Google for permission to publish some information they previously submitted confidentially. It quoted ‘several people familiar with the requests’ as its source. The EC has reportedly contacted shopping and travel companies as part of these requests.

Antitrust experts said these requests are a strong indication that formal antitrust charges are being prepared in the case, the Journal said.

Google has not commented on the report, but it has always denied any anticompetitive behaviour.

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