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European Commission reopens Google antitrust probe

Tue 9 Sep 2014

The European Commission is refreshing its four-year investigation into how Google displays search results and advertising, and has also threatened to launch a new probe into its mobile operating system Android.

The stand-off between the two bodies arose following concerns that the search giant is abusing its position at the top of the European search market, with roughly a 95% share.

The investigation has been open since November 2010, after Google’s competitors, including Foundem, the British price-comparison site, disputed the ‘anti-competitive’ nature of Google’s search displays.

Google agreed in February of this year to keep space available at the top of their European pages for its competitors, who would be given the option to bid for the spots via auction.

Rivals however have suggested this auction process could generate extra income for Google of over 300mn euros.

“Under the auction system Google would get another massive revenue stream. It’s a bit like telling a robber than he can’t rob any more but instead can set a toll on the High Street,” said David Wood, a lawyer representing iComp (Initiative for a Competitive Online Marketplace).

Joaquin Almunia, antitrust commissioner, revealed that following “very, very negative” feedback from rivals including Expedia and Microsoft, he would reopen the investigation in the hope of reaching a more favourable agreement.

“Some complainants have introduced new arguments, new data, and new considerations. We now need to analyse this and see if we can find solutions, Google can find solutions, to some of these concerns that we find justified,” he told Bloomberg TV.

Google chairman, Eric Schmidt, however urged in a letter to the Financial Times that “Google is not ‘the gateway to the internet.’”

“Nor is it true that we promote our own products at the expense of competitors […] If you want to buy something, whether it is shoes or insurance, we try to show offers and websites where you can actually buy things. That’s more relevant than a link to a specialised search engine, where you have to repeat your query,” he added.



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