EC may put antitrust focus on Google

The European Commission has defended itself against US criticism of the Microsoft antitrust ruling, as reports suggest Google may be next

Following the rejection of Microsoft's antitrust appeal, the European Commission has defended its stance against US critics and is believed to be considering action against other technology suppliers, with Google the most likely target.

"For the time being, the [European] Commission can apply the precedents set by the Microsoft ruling in only one case: Google," said The Economist. The EU is already investigating whether Google's planned $3.1bn (£1.5bn) acquisition of online ad company DoubleClick would give it undue control over online advertising.

This week Neelie Kroes, the European Commission's competition commissioner, defended the Microsoft antitrust ruling against criticism from the US. The EC's decision to fine Microsoft would have the effect of "harming consumers by chilling innovation and discouraging competition", said Thomas Barnett, the head of the US Department of Justice's antitrust division, on Tuesday. The Department of Justice applied a more lenient penalty to Microsoft in 2002.

Striking back, Kroes said: "I think it's totally unacceptable that a representative of the US administration criticises an independent court outside its jurisdiction." She said the EU would not "pass judgement on a ruling by the US courts and we expect the same degree of respect from the US authorities".

Google is facing a Senate hearing next week in the US, where its DoubleClick purchase is being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and Microsoft is pushing for action against Google.

The Google case could be similar to that against Microsoft, said The Economist: "If Google becomes a central storage vault for data such as users' location and identity, as some fear, European regulators may one day try to compel the firm to give rivals open access to this information, rather as they have now forced Microsoft to release its communication protocols." 

Other potential targets for the EU include Apple, whose iTunes and iPod have been criticised for excluding other products, and Intel, whose dominance in microprocessors has been criticised. The EU has not announced any formal action against Google or the other companies, however.

Microsoft has two months and 10 days to appeal against Monday's ruling. Even if it does not appeal, it will still have to negotiate the details of the settlement, including the licence fee Microsoft can charge for its protocols, and whether it can be forced to provide them to its open-source competitors.