EU levels antitrust charges against Google

Brussels: The European Commission has accused Google of abusing its dominance in internet searches by “systematically” promoting its own products, while it announced the opening of an antitrust investigation to include its Android mobile operating system, Efe news agency reported on Wednesday.

“The European Commission has sent a statement of objections to Google alleging the company has abused its dominant position in the markets for general internet search services in the European Economic Area by systematically favoring its own comparison shopping product in its general search results pages,” the commission said in a statement.

“The commission’s preliminary view is that such conduct infringes EU antitrust rules because it stifles competition and harms consumers,” the statement said.

European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager said in a press conference that their “preliminary view in the statement of objections is that in its general internet search results, Google artificially favors its own comparison-shopping service, and that this constitutes an abuse.”

She clarified that the accusations did not prejudge the findings of investigations, noting that Google would be given the opportunity to defend itself to the commission

However, Vestager warned, “If the investigation confirmed our concerns, Google would have to face the legal consequences and change the way it does business in Europe.”

Google monopolises online search engines in the European Economic Area, with market shares above 90 percent in most countries in the region.

Vestager noted that “dominant companies have a responsibility not to abuse their powerful market position by restricting competition either in markets where they’re dominant or in neighbouring markets.”

However, she made it clear that the European Commission did “not wish to interfere with design choices, how things are presented, or how the algorithm works”, but wished that web users in Europe would be guaranteed to access the most pertinent search results, not those backed by Google.

The commission launched investigations in 2010 to determine whether Google’s business model could amount to an abuse of a dominant position by restricting competition in the field of web searches and online advertising, with the help of 45 experts working exclusively on the case plus other technicians from other services.

The company will have 10 weeks in which to put together a defence, and will be given an audience with the heads of European Competition Commission, however, if the company does not comply, a fine of up to 10 percent of Google’s turnover could be incurred — about 5.65 billion euros ($6 billion) according to its 2014 accounts.

The commission specified that it would continue its formal investigation into Google on the other counts of suspicions, such as possible favoritism for other search results, copying content of competitor websites, and unreasonable restrictions to advertisers.

At the same time, the European Commission has opened a separate investigation to determine whether Google promoted anti-competitive agreements with manufacturers of phones and tablets to exclusively use its open source operating system Android.

Thomas Vinje, legal adviser and spokesman of the international FairSearch coalition in Europe, with members such as Expedia, Nokia, Oracle, and Microsoft International, applauded the decision and noted that more than 30 companies and consumer organisations have denounced the behaviour of Google, which “has devastated its opponents”.