Member Blog, One News Page: Google antitrust investigation in spotlight as U.S., European regulators meet

The business practices of Internet giant Google were on the agenda of a meeting between antitrust regulators from both sides of the Atlantic

BRUSSELS, Belgium — The ongoing investigations into Google’s business practices were set to be discussed by the chiefs of the U.S. and European antitrust regulators in Brussels on Monday.

The chairman of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Jon Leibovitz, was meeting with his European counterpart Joaquín Almunia for discussions considered crucial for Google’s future following independent antitrust investigations by both regulators. Google is currently in negotiations with both regulators, seeking to reach settlement without the need for lengthy court proceedings which could cost the Internet giant up to 10% of its global revenues in fines, amounting to up to $4 billion.

Both regulators have been examining whether Google abuses its dominant position in search – in Europe, Google command some 90% of all search queries, whilst in the U.S. the figure is around 65% – to its competitive advantage.

The European regulator has already come to the conclusion that Google does indeed leverage its dominant search market share to unfairly promote its sideline businesses in verticals such as news, maps or shopping comparison. It does so by giving its own services preferential treatment on its search results pages, relegating competitive offerings in the process.

Almunia warned Google publicly in September that “in the absence of satisfactory proposals [from Google] in the short term, I will be obliged to continue with our formal proceedings.”

An initial proposal submitted by Google in October to simply “label” its own services on search results pages is understood to have been dismissed by the EU regulator as insufficient.

In the U.S., the FTC has been carrying out a similar antitrust probe over the past 18 months, investigating a wide range of Google’s business practices including the way it displays search results and also the terms of its technology licensing which are considered by critics as anti-competitive.

The FTC is said to be in current settlement talks with Google.

Google’s public comments about the antitrust probes have been sparse. Asked about the discussions between the FTC and the European Commission a Google spokesman said: “We continue to work cooperatively with the Federal Trade Commission and European Commission and are happy to answer any questions they may have.”

Note to readers:
So-called “penalties” which are used by search engines to relegate websites to obscure, less accessible areas of search results are often applied without notification or explanation. These measures typically have a crippling impact on legitimate online businesses. Our “Have I been penalized..?” campaign demands greater transparency surrounding search penalties.


By Marc Pinter-Krainer

One News Page