Google Rivals Pressure European Regulators to Charge Company

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2013-03-22 Print this article Print

A growing group of companies is loudly pushing the EU to finally hit Google hard in connection with alleged unfair business practices. 

Google has been trying to come up with proposed remedies for some time that would satisfy EU regulators and convince them to close their case against the search giant. Google had sent previous lists of proposals to the EU in the summer of 2012, but those earlier proposals failed to satisfy European regulators. Google was given more time—until Jan. 31—to submit new proposals.

The EU investigation centers on what regulators regard as Google's dominant position in search.

In July 2012, Google executives sent a list of initial concessions to address the potential antitrust concerns. At that time, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt sent a letter to the EU's Almunia outlining steps the massive Web company would be willing to take to resolve the EU's concerns, including claims that it favors its own search results over those of others.

Almunia had given Google officials the opportunity to address that issue and other concerns, including the use of material from other search engines in its results and its dominance in Web advertising, all of which investigators said put competitors at an unfair advantage.

Since that time, Almunia again spoke to Schmidt and asked for more clarification of Google's proposals from early July 2012.

Google officials are under investigation in Europe and elsewhere regarding its search engine, which holds more than 60 percent of the search market, with Microsoft's Bing being a distant second. Competitors have claimed that Google works its search algorithms to favor its own products and results over those of others, giving it an unfair advantage in search and Web advertising.

A guilty verdict on such charges could mean a fine of up to 10 percent of Google's annual revenue, which based on its 2011 annual results, would amount to about $4 billion.

Google's legal situation in Europe continues, even as a similar antitrust probe in the United States was resolved in Google's favor in January.

Instead of an antitrust prosecution in United States, Google entered into a voluntary agreement with the Federal Trade Commission to change some of its business practices to resolve the complaints of some competitors about Google's practices.

In the FTC case, Google won a huge battle as the commission voted to close its longtime investigation into allegations that Google has been manipulating its search algorithms to favor Google's results over competitors. Instead, the FTC found that there was not enough evidence to prove such allegations.

Among the key parts of the FTC agreement with Google is that the search company will end some past business practices that could stifle competition in the markets for popular devices such as smartphones, tablets and gaming consoles, as well as the market for online search advertising, according to the agency. Under a binding settlement with the FTC, Google will allow competitors access "on fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms to patents on critical standardized technologies needed to make popular devices such as smartphones, laptop and tablet computers, and gaming consoles," the FTC reported.


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