EU launches Google antitrust investigation

EU launches Google antitrust investigation

Summary: If government inquiries are a measure of success, then Google is an even bigger success than anyone could have imagined.

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The European Commission launched what it calls an investigation of "exclusivity obligations" imposed by Google on advertisers today. The investigation is in response to competitors' complaints that the search giant uses its dominant position to favor its own web properties and paid search traffic.

According to the New York Times,

The commission said that it was also looking into whether Google may have given its own services “preferential placement” in search results. In addition to its search engine, Google has a growing number of other online businesses, including mapping, translation, video and electronic commerce services, many of which, like the search engine, are supported by advertising.

This new investigation is added to ongoing privacy, copyright, and separate anti-trust investigations in individual European countries. Foundem (a British site similar to buy.com), Ciao (a similar site in Germany owned, not surprisingly, by Microsoft), and eJustice (a French legal search site) are all parties to the complaint which resulted in informal inquiries earlier this year. Although the Commission notes that it has "no proof of infringements", Google has been quick to offer its cooperation.

Microsoft, as most of us will remember, was the first large US computing company to undergo European antitrust investigation and receive multi-billion dollar fines for infringements around Windows. However, as London's Telegraph explains, this is a very different case:

Google is accused by a small number of search sites of unfairly lowering their rankings. Although none of them want to make Google’s secret methods completely public, they’re demanding greater transparency in how Google ranks the “Quality” of sites.

Google's PageRank algorithm, though, is obviously a key bit of intellectual property, critical to its search business and considered by many to be the "secret sauce" behind its success. "Transparency" into the algorithm would obviously not be a desired outcome. Given their large war chest, Google would probably rather pay a few billion in fines than reveal its ranking algorithms, but it's not likely that they'll be given a choice in the matter.

Topics: Government UK, Enterprise Software, Google, Government, Security

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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49 comments
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  • DonnieBoy must be throwing chairs right about now

    as how dare someone like the EU investigate Google for Antitrust violations, when they should be focusing on Microsoft, as Google is the world's saviour!
    John Zern
    • Forcing companies to compete on the merits is very good. Google ALSO needs

      to compete on the merits. Google does not have the market power of MS yet, but, they are at a point that they can abuse it.
      DonnieBoy
      • RE: EU launches Google antitrust investigation

        @DonnieBoy - You must not know how EU antitrust law works DonnieBoy. EU Antitrust law has nothing to do with competing on merits, but ensuring that everyone, no matter how crappy their product is, can complain that they're not being given a fair share by their competitors, which means that the competitors who may have a superior product has to pay a fine or cripple themselves to bring their product down to the lowest common denominator.<br><br>Basically, nobody's allowed to actually BE better than their competitors if anyone complains.<br><br>It's called "socialism".<br><br>Note that I'm not defending Google (or stating that Google has a better product) or defending the EU here, just stating facts as previously established by the EU/EC and their so called "anti-trust" rulings.

        (Edit was fixing incorrect useage of their, changed to they're)
        PollyProteus
      • RE: EU launches Google antitrust investigation

        @DonnieBoy - So being #1 search and over 50% of the search is not market power? Granted their software has a LONG way to go to compete OO and Office, but they are definitely market power in search. Granted I don't agree with them and the EU is a mess, but saying they are not a market power is nuts.
        ItsTheBottomLine
      • RE: EU launches Google antitrust investigation

        @PollyProteus
        Thank you! EU acts as "socialist" as modern day society will probably allow. "Boohoo my product stinks and I can't do it - can you sue them please and make them use mine." In the long run if they keep this up it may be their undoing.
        ItsTheBottomLine
    • Hahahahaha

      @John Zern

      Win!
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • RE: EU launches Google antitrust investigation

      @John Zern I was LOL - and thinking the same thing when I saw this.
      ItsTheBottomLine
    • RE: EU launches Google antitrust investigation

      @John Zern
      now go in basement and play that lame xbox game!
      The M$ agents have duped the EU regulators, that's all folks, but google will fix it and reveal who the perpretators were!
      Linux Geek
    • RE: EU launches Google antitrust investigation

      @John Zern Google appears to be a savior currently, until it either becomes corrupted or has changes in power, then it will be your worst nightmare.
      thealternet
      • It's already your worst nightmare

        And, no, I'm not joking.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
  • Great to see the EU holding Google's feet to the fire. Competition IS very

    important.
    DonnieBoy
    • I must say

      I am pleasantly surprised at your response. It's good to know you aren't one of those blind Google Fans.
      Michael Alan Goff
      • RE: EU launches Google antitrust investigation

        @goff256 LOL - your kidding. Go back and read his posts. He is the #1 in line of "those blind Google Fans."
        ItsTheBottomLine
    • RE: EU launches Google antitrust investigation

      @DonnieBoy : you're an idiot. I'm sure you don't understand why.
      nomorebs
      • RE: EU launches Google antitrust investigation

        @nomorebs
        sounds like "pot kettle black" to me..
        deaf_e_kate
  • Point on one, nada on another...

    Exclusivity obligations could be grounds for anti-trust action given Google's market share dominance. Intel faced a similar case and lost handily, losing around a billion and a half dollars for their trouble. How Google chooses to rank results, however, is a nonstarter. Anyone raising that in a court of law, EU or American, will get laughed out of the courtroom.
    jasonp9
    • I would like to see the market share standard lowered to be considered

      monopoly. We need more competition.
      DonnieBoy
      • RE: EU launches Google antitrust investigation

        @DonnieBoy - better quality products brings competition, not legislation.

        What you're advocating is socialism which actually MARGINALIZES competition and quality.

        Thanks but uh... no thanks.
        PollyProteus
  • It's about time someone investigate those crooks at Google

    However, I don't trust the EU -- they're just looking for an easy paycheck. Google is as sneaky as their engineers are creepy. Google will pay a few fines (and bribes) and they're be back committing more crimes.
    iPad-awan
    • RE: EU launches Google antitrust investigation

      @iPad-awan - well, the EU does have to find cash from somewhere in order to bail out the likes of Greece, Ireland and many other countries whos economies are failing. ;)

      Looks like they may have already spent all the cash they squeezed from Microsoft - now it's Google's turn. Who's next I wonder? Apple?
      bitcrazed