26th May 2020

Commission delivers anti-trust ultimatum to Google

The European Commission has given Google “a matter of weeks” to propose a “remedies package” in order to avoid formal legal proceedings and possible fines over allegations that the online search giant is abusing its dominant market position.

EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia Monday (21 May) said he had identified “four concerns where Google business practice may be considered as abuses of dominance”. He indicated that failure to respond to the EU executive’s demands would result in formal anti-trust proceedings against the company. Under EU competition rules, the Commission can impose fines of up to 10 percent of a firm’s annual turnover.

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  • Online search engine Google could be fined billions of euros by the European Commission (Photo: EUobserver)

The Commission is concerned about the way Google’s search services give preferential treatment to its own products and lock out rivals as well as copying content from competitors which then appear in search results. It has also demanded changes to Google’s advertising service Adwords, which accounts for over 40 percent of online advertising.

But the commissioner is keen to avoid the sort of lengthy procedures as when the Commission took on software firms Microsoft and Intel, commenting that “these fast-moving markets would particularly benefit from a quick resolution.”

In response, Google spokesman Al Verney stated that “we disagree with the conclusions but we’re happy to discuss any concerns they might have.”

Internet lobby group ICOMP, which is sponsored by Google’s rival Microsoft and is frequently critical of the search engine, welcomed the Commission’s move on what it described as “well documented allegations that the Internet giant is violating competition law.”

ICOMP lawyer, David Wood, stated that “Google’s behaviour has caused significant harm to numerous businesses across the online ecosystem stifling innovation, competition and to the ultimate detriment of consumers and the European economy.”

He said that any settlement should feature “measures to quickly redress the harm caused to European businesses and consumers.”

Google holds 94 percent of the European search engine market and 82 percent worldwide, according to the online data tracking source comstore, with Microsoft’s Bing programme its nearest rival.

Meanwhile, according to figures released on Monday by Statcounter, Google’s Chrome is now the most popular Web browser worldwide, having narrowly overtaken Microsoft’s Internet Explorer for the first time.

After years of slowly closing the gap, Chrome now holds a 32.76 percent market share, with Internet Explorer at 31.94 percent.

Google is currently facing 16 anti-trust investigations by the Commission, a process which started in November 2010 after Microsoft and other rivals accused the search engine of manipulating search results. It is also facing investigation by the US Federal Trade Commission.

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