The European Commission is gearing up to levy formal anti-competitive charges against Google, the Wall Street Journal reported July 8.
The expectations follow from regulators having reached out to rival technology companies, according to the report, asking for permission to disclose to Google confidential information that they shared with the European Union (EU) regarding the impacts that Google’s behaviors have had on their businesses.
The new charges, it added, are related to Google’s “shopping service,” and accusations that Google uses its position in the search market to favor its own services in the shopping market, people familiar with the matter told the Journal.
A new Statement of Objections could come as soon as the end of July and build on upon shopping-related complaints made in April 2015 by the Commission and Europe’s top antitrust regulator, Margrethe Vestager—a woman frequently described as sharp, intelligent and disinclined to back down when the facts support her.
Vestager also led a separate charge against Google this spring. The Commission released a statement April 20, saying it had sent Google a Statement of Objections, regarding how Google has “implemented a strategy on mobile devices to preserve and strengthen its dominance in general Internet search.”
Google’s Android mobile operating system is an open source code, available for use by any company—a fact that has enabled Samsung, HTC, LG, Amazon and others to help make Android the most widely used mobile OS in the world. What the Commission is objecting to is that Android sets up Google Search as the preinstalled, default and, in some cases, exclusive search engine on most Android devices sold in Europe.
The Commission alleged that Google breached EU antitrust rules by:
• requiring device makers to preinstall Google Search and Google Chrome and to set Google Search as the default search service;
• preventing device makers from selling devices that run operating systems that are based on Android’s open source code and compete with Android; and
• providing financial incentives to mobile operators and device makers, on the condition that they exclusively preinstall Google Search on their hardware.
“Based on our investigation thus far, we believe that Google’s behavior denies consumers a wider choice of mobile apps and services and stands in the way of innovation by other players, in breach of EU antitrust rules,” Vestager said in a statement. “These rules apply to all companies active in Europe.”
Kent Walker, senior vice president and general counsel of Google, wrote in an April 20, 2016, blog post that the company was looking forward to working with the EC to demonstrate “the careful way” that it has designed the Android model to make it “good for competition and for consumers.”
Walker further added that the Android model includes “entirely voluntary” partner agreements that let anyone use Android, without Google; a promise from manufacturers that their Android ecosystem will support Android apps; the ability to load Google apps to a device but also other apps, such as those from Facebook, Microsoft and the mobile carriers; and offsetting the costs of developing Android through revenue earned through Google apps and services.
Regarding the shopping charges the EC is building, Politico reported June 26 that investigators were collecting evidence related to Google AdWords and AdSense. Were Google to be found guilty of breaching EU competition rules, it added, it could face fines totaling billions of euros, or up to 10 percent of its annual revenue per infringement.