Google Faces The Threat of EU Antitrust Charges
According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, EU regulators may slap Google with the anti-trust charges that the U.S.’s FTC failed to
The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) made the decision not to take legal action against Google in 2012, despite some of their staff labelling Google as a monopoly (as revealed in a leaked report). It has been suggested that part of the reason was able to dodge the verdict was because of help from the Obama Administration in exchange for campaign donations.
Similar investigations from EU regulators happening right now may see Google finally have to answer to antitrust charges. Companies that have filed confidential complaints against Google have been given the option of publishing the details of their complaints in the EU regulator’s complaints policy.
The Complaint: That Google Is Using Its Power as the Dominant Search Engine in Europe to Suppress Competitors
Specifically, Google has been accused of loading the top of the search results with links to its own services, pushing down the listings of competitors to the lower parts of the page. At this moment in time 90% of online searches go through Google as compared with 70% in the U.S., giving Google an even greater dominance in Europe.
In addition to this Google has been accused of “scraping” content from the sites of competitors, and unfairly restricting advertisers on the search engine.
Europe’s new antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager, has stated that settlements “should not be a habit” and therefore may be intent on taking legal action against Google.
What are the Implications?
Possible outcomes are a fine for Google that could be in the region of 10% of Google’s annual revenue (equating to $66 Billion), and the imposing of conditions on how Google does business within the EU, like forcing Google to separate search from the rest of its services.
If the European Commission did decide to file antitrust charges against Google, it would be the highest profile case since the lengthy antitrust suit against Microsoft which resulted in a $1.7 Billion fine.
Google has firmly denied that they took part in anticompetitive behaviour and while speaking in Berlin, earlier last week, the general counsel Kent Walker pointed out that there was a “painfully long list of unsuccessful Google products,” including Google+. This apparently indicates that anticompetitive laws are working.
However it is unlikely that this will change the direction that Margrethe Vestager seems intent on moving towards, which will be legal action being taken against Google; the full implications of which will become apparent in the very near future.