The European Union is investigating claims from smaller search engines that Google has violated fair competition rules by boosting its results. Google denies the claims.
The European Union's inquiry into Google's search practices has evolved into
a full-blown investigation as the agency's antitrust watchdog pledged to take a
hard look at the search engine.
Foundem, eJustice and Microsoft's Ciao filed
complaints last February with the EU, alleging that
Google surfaces links for its own Web services over those of the smaller
comparison shopping engines on Google.com.
The European Commission followed up with this statement
"The Commission will investigate whether Google has abused a dominant
market position in online search by allegedly lowering the ranking of unpaid
search results of competing services which are specialized in providing users
with specific online content such as price comparisons (so-called vertical
search services) and by according preferential placement to the results of its
own vertical search services in order to shut out competing services."
The Commission will further look into allegations that Google lowered the
quality score, a signal that helps determine the price paid to Google by
advertisers, for sponsored links of competing search services.
The Commission's probe will also scrutinize allegations that Google
prevented ad partners from placing competing ads from some vendors on their Websites.
Google, which denied the claims at that time and asserted rival Microsoft
was behind the hullabaloo, reiterated its defense in a blog post Nov. 30
and said the scrutiny was to be expected given
Google's size and success in search.
Google also told eWEEK in a statement:
"Since we started Google we have worked hard to do the right thing by
our users and our industry-ensuring that ads are always clearly marked, making
it easy for users to take their data with them when they switch services and
investing heavily in open source projects. But there's always going to be room
for improvement, and so we'll be working with the Commission to address any
The Commission stressed that it has no proof of any infringements, but that it
will conduct an in-depth investigation of Google over the matter.
If the Commission agrees with the plaintiffs that Google violated the spirit
of competition in Europe, it can fine it up to 10
percent of Google's global sales. Based on Google's 2009 revenues of $24
billion, that would cost the company $2.4 billion.
Microsoft and Intel can attest to the cost of a Commission finding of guilt
of abusing competition; both have been whacked with $1 billion-plus fines from
Google watchdogs for the Consumer Watchdog praised the Commission's move but
lamented the lack of such scrutiny of the search engine in the United
"It's long been clear that Google unfairly uses its dominance in search
to benefit its own services," said John M. Simpson, director of Consumer
Watchdog's Inside Google project.
"I'm pleased with the European announcement, but this is a U.S.
company and it is past time for our authorities to act decisively."