Google cannot seem to shake off heat in Europe as the European Union’s antitrust head was quoted by The Financial Times as saying that Google must change the way it conducts its search business or face an antitrust probe.
The Financial Times newspaper said that Joaquin Almunia, EU’s antitrust commissioner, intends to let Google change its ways in its search business by not distorting choices for consumers and treating rivals unfairly.
“We are still investigating, but my conviction is are diverting traffic,” The Financial Times quoted Almunia as saying, commenting on how Google favors its own vertical search services.
“They are monetizing this kind of business, the strong position they have in the general search market and this is not only a dominant position, I think – I fear – there is an abuse of this dominant position,” Almunia said.
The Commission gave Google a chance to defend itself by issuing an ultimatum last December 18. The Commission demanded from Google a detailed proposal how to resolve the 2-year old investigation alleging that it used its dominant position to keep its rivals like Microsoft out of business.
The biggest search company in the world has been the subject of an ongoing investigation by the European Union following complaints that it manipulated search results in favor of its services over its rivals. There is also another complaint asking to probe Google for allegedly copying materials from restaurants and travel websites without permission.
However, Almunia made it clear that his main concern was not to discuss the vaunted algorithm that Google is using in its powerful search engine, but rather on “the way they present their own services”.
According to The Financial Times, Almunia’s statement suggested one aspect of the solution would be labeling when the search engine’s in-house services like shopping comparison information are provided with artificially higher billing that their rivals. Some other changes would most probably also apply to how Google services will be shown in general search engines.
Almunia hinted that he may file formal charges against the company if its proposal come deadline will be unsatisfactory, though he also said that the American company has been showing cooperation at a meeting in December.
“We continue to work cooperatively with the commission,” said Al Vernet, Google’s spokesman.
A spokesman of Almunia confirmed the quotes of The Financial Times although he said, it did not add another position of the European Commission.
“He was highlighting that we think the preferential treatment may lead to diversion of traffic, which we consider anticompetitive. That’s a basic concern we have as we explained last May,” Antoine Colombani, Almunia’s spokesman told Reuters.
The stance of the European Commission marks a different means of probing into the issue to that of the regulators in the United States, who declared Google to have not abused its dominant position to outmaneuver its rivals following a lengthy investigation. The U.S. verdict disappointed Google’s rivals.
Almunia clarified EU’s position to The Financial Times by saying that the divergence from the United States investigation result depends on the different legal standards for abuse of dominance, and Google’s stronger position in Europe where it holds 90 percent of the search market.
He also brushed aside the idea that an intervention from his U.S. counterpart will happen and may trigger an outrage.
“I have never received a single message coming from the other side of the Atlantic saying, ‘hey, what are you doing?’ Everyone knows this is global,” Almunia said.
He mentioned that a separate investigation into Google’s Android operating system is outside the settlement and is still open.