EC to grill Google rivals once more in search competition probe

With a new face in charge of competition, the European Commission is revisiting its ongoing antitrust investigation into Google.

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EC competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager. Image: Etienne Ansotte, EU/Shimera
The European Commission's long-running antitrust investigation into Google has entered a new phase.

The EU's competition chief Margrethe Vestager, who replaced the previous antitrust head Joaquín Almunia earlier this year, will be meeting with complainants in the case to get fresh information.

"I found there was a need to update the information in this case and therefore... we have sent questionnaires to a number of people in a number of different areas - maps, travelling, a couple of other areas - in other to get more fresh information because it was quite a while ago this was done the last time and therefore to have a case that was actual and true to the time we live in, I found it was important to get new information in the file," Vestager said on Thursday.

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Vestager didn't name the companies she intends to meet with, but those who have filed complaints with the EC in the past include Microsoft, Tripadvisor, and Yelp.

The investigation began in 2010 , and raises questions about whether Google has abused its dominant position in the search market by promoting its own vertical search products, such as travel or shopping search, above its rivals'.

Vestager will use the information gathered from this most recent set of questionnaires to determine the EC's course of action.

"I have no intentions yet," she said when queried if the questionnaires could lead to a statement of objections from the EC. "I am going to meet with complainants within the next couple of weeks to have a first hand idea of how they see the case. Then with meeting with complainants and with new information in the file, I will know much more about the case and can then decide how to take it forward."

The investigation looked likely to be drawing to a close earlier this year when the outgoing Almunia presented a package of measures drawn up by Google that appeared to address the Commission's concerns. Among Google's proposed remedies were displaying links to three rivals' vertical search products in a manner comparable to its own and allow companies to opt-out of having their content included in its search products on a subdomain by subdomain basis.

However, the measures proved unpopular with complainants - Almunia described them at the time as "very, very negative", and said they justified the EC's decision to pursue further concessions from Google.

The case is far from Google's only difficulty in Europe. The EC is considering opening a similar antitrust investigation into the Android ecosystem, while the European Parliament has asked the Commission to consider a possible break-up of the company.

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