Google Inc, the target of an EU antitrust investigation into its Internet search engine, may face further scrutiny over its other services following several complaints, Europe’s antitrust chief said on Tuesday (23 September).
European Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia said this meant Google could end up a bigger case than Microsoft Corp, which found itself embroiled in a decade-long battle with the EU watchdog and was hit with more than €2.2 billion in fines.
“We have received complaints on the possible diversion of internet traffic towards Google services which are not search services, so this is a possible third investigation concerning Google,” Almunia told a European Parliament hearing.
The Commission has been investigating allegations that Google abuses its dominant position in online search to promote its own online shopping services – such as hotel bookings, restaurants or other product offers – to the detriment of rivals.
Google spokesman Al Verney said in response, “We continue to work with the European Commission to resolve their concerns.”
Earlier this year, the US tech giant had promised the Commission that “whenever it promotes its own specialised search services on its web page (e.g. for products, hotels, restaurants, etc.), the services of three rivals will also be displayed in a way that is clearly visible to users and comparable to the way in which Google displays its own services”.
Judging from Almunia’s speech in Parliament, those concerns have not gone away.
Almunia, who is scheduled to leave office by the end of October, did not provide any further details. It was not clear if he would open a case or leave it to his successor Margrethe Vestager.
In June, he said companies including European publishers, a telecoms operator, an association of picture industries and photo libraries, as well as an advertising platform, had complained about Google leveraging its dominance to promote its social network Google+ and its online video website YouTube.
Almunia also reiterated previous comments on a possible investigation into Google’s Android mobile operating system, the most popular in the world, and also the subject of several complaints.
Two weeks ago, Almunia said he would not be able to wrap up the four-year-old probe into Google before leaving office, following fresh studies and arguments from complainants such as Microsoft about its search result rankings.
Despite cross-border limitations, e-commerce is slowly picking up in Europe and is expected to reach a total volume of over €260 billion by 2015, from €159 billion in 2011.
An increasing share of this activity passes now through online search, which is for many users the main gateway to the Internet and therefore to e-commerce.
Inevitably, this situation poses questions on the dominant role played by Google, which is by far the most important search engine in Europe and in the world. According to some estimates, Google controls 94% of online search in Europe.
The expansion of Google from online search to related areas such as bookings for hotel, travel or restaurants, has raised concerns and pushed the European Commission to start an antitrust investigation in November 2010 over a possible abuse of Google’s dominant position.
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