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23rd Feb 2020

EU files new antitrust case against Google

  • Vestager has launched three cases against Google, but has yet to close one (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission filed additional charges against Google on Thursday (14 July), adding to a previous antitrust case against the tech company.

It reinforced its initial objections against Google's comparison shopping service. In the new case, it said it will investigate whether the company has used its dominant market position to prevent websites from displaying the ads of competitors.

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”Google has come up with many innovative products that have made a difference to our lives. But that doesn't give Google the right to deny other companies the chance to compete and innovate,” said competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager at a press conference.

She said the commission had sent two statements of objection - a formality in EU antitrust investigations - informing Google of the new cases raised against it.

"Our preliminary view is that Google's contracts for the last 10 years restricted third parties from getting search ads from Google’s competitors," the commissioner continued.

"We have also found new evidence that Google abuses its dominant position by favouring own shopping comparison services in its general search result pages," she added.

The tech giant had in the past contested the commission's probe about Google Shopping. The company said it had a lesser market share than commission calculations, arguing that the EU executive had omitted merchant platforms, such as Amazon and eBay, in its competitor comparisons.

Google has also rebuked the idea that high visibility on search pages translated into more clicks.

The commissioner on Thursday dismissed these arguments.

"It's common sense, but we were also able to prove that visibility and traffic are two sides of the same coin,” she said.

”If anything, merchant platforms are customers, rather than competitors of Google,” she added.

Google has 10 weeks to reply to the new charges. If found guilty of breaching EU competition law, it could face fines up to 10 percent of its global revenue.

It is unclear, however, when this will happen. The commission has no deadline for when to bring the case to a close. The EU first accused Google of breaching antitrust laws in 2009, and has yet to send a bill to the company.

“If our investigations conclude that Google has broken EU antitrust rules, the commission has a duty to act to protect European consumers and fair competition on European markets,” Vestager said.

Her team is working "as fast as we can", she added.

”Speed is of the essence,” she said, when it came to stopping harmful market practices.

”But the other side of the coin is quality,” she said.

”What I have seen with cases of predecessors is that they [Google] will go to court”, she added, saying it was her duty to build up a strong case that can withstand a court challenge.

Meanwhile, the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), an advocacy organisation whose membership includes Google, said the commission’s investigation was based on thin ground.

“The time taken by the commission to produce its supplementary statement of objections shows that the commission is thorough, but that its case has important weaknesses,” said CCIA vice-president James Waterworth.

Google is already under investigation for forcing mobile phone makers to use its web browsing app, which squeezes out competitors.

The case was only briefly mentioned on Thursday, as the probe is ongoing. Google recently asked for more time to reply to the charges and was given until early September to do so.

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