Europe's antitrust regulators step up Google investigation

European Commission looks into comparison shopping and search advertising.

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Has Google favoured its own comparison shopping service in general search result pages?

Image: Reuters/file photo

The European Commission (EC) has stepped up its antitrust investigation against Google, claiming that the search giant's comparison shopping and advertising-related practices breach EU rules.

The EC said that Google has unduly favoured its own comparison shopping service in its general search result pages, which it said means consumers may not see the most relevant results to their search queries. It has also raised concerns that Google has hindered competition by limiting the ability of its competitors to place search adverts on third-party websites, stifling consumer choice and innovation.

Margrethe Vestager, European Commissioner in charge of competition policy, said: "Google has come up with many innovative products that have made a difference to our lives. But that doesn't give Google the right to deny other companies the chance to compete and innovate."

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She added: "If our investigations conclude that Google has broken EU antitrust rules, the commission has a duty to act to protect European consumers and fair competition on European markets."

The EC's 'supplementary statement of objections' outlines the evidence, which the commission says reinforces its "preliminary conclusion" that Google has abused its dominant position by systematically favouring its own comparison shopping service in its general search results.

As a result, the EC said, users do not necessarily see the most relevant results in response to queries, and that this outcome is to the detriment of consumers and stifles innovation. Google and Alphabet have eight weeks to respond to this claim.

The EC has also sent a statement of objections to Google about restrictions that the company has placed on the ability of some third-party websites to display search advertisements from Google's competitors.

The EC said this has allowed Google to protect its dominant position in online search advertising by preventing competitors -- including other search providers and online advertising platforms -- from entering and growing in this market.

Google places ads directly on the Google search website but also on other websites -- like retailers and newspapers -- through its AdSense for Search platform. The EC said it considers that Google is dominant in the market for search advertising intermediation in Europe, with a market share of around 80 percent in the last ten years. A large proportion of Google's revenues from search advertising intermediation stems from its agreements with a limited number of companies known as "direct partners", the EC states.

The commission said it has concerns that in these agreements with direct partners, Google has breached EU antitrust rules by imposing conditions around exclusivity, premium placement of a minimum number of Google search ads, and Google's right to authorise competing ads. Google and Alphabet have 10 weeks to respond to the Statement of Objections.

The EC had opened proceedings in November 2010 on Google's favourable treatment of its own comparison shopping service, as well as restrictions it placed on the ability of third-party websites to display search advertisements from Google's competitors.

But this investigation is independent of the Commission's ongoing antitrust investigation in relation to Google's Android operating system, on which it also issued a Statement of Objections earlier this year.

Google had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.

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