Joaquín Almunia, Vice President of the European Commission responsible for Competition Policy, announced today that his committee has concluded the initial investigation into Google’s anticompetitive practices. Google has a matter of weeks to respond with workable remedies that address the Commission’s concerns and preserve competition.
In a speech in Brussels today, Almunia outlined the four main areas of concern: the way Google displays results; that Google uses unauthorized content from competitors; anticompetitive agreements between Google and partners on the websites of which Google delivers search advertisements; and the portability of online search advertising campaigns. Almunia said he hopes “that Google seizes this opportunity to swiftly resolve our concerns, for the benefit of competition and innovation in the sector.”
Top outlets from all over the world weighed in on the announcement.
Bloomberg reported that Google “is under growing pressure from global regulators probing whether the company is thwarting competition in the market for Web searches. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission and antitrust agencies in Argentina and South Korea are also scrutinizing the company.”
The New York Times reported that “[a]ntitrust fines in Europe can reach up to 10 percent of a company’s annual global revenue. Google’s revenue was nearly $38 billion last year.”
BBC News reported that while Google has a chance to take these concerns seriously and work towards remedies, Almunia did not rule out the possibility that the settlement discussions could fail, saying, “[s]hould this process fail to deliver a satisfactory set of remedies, the ongoing formal proceedings will of course continue.”
As reported in Financial Times, Google’s Brussels-based spokesman Al Verney dismissed the European regulatory body’s concerns, saying, “[w]e disagree with the conclusions but we’re happy to discuss any concerns they might have… Competition on the web has increased dramatically in the last two years since the commission started looking at this and the competitive pressures Google faces are tremendous. Innovation online has never been greater.”
FairSearch EU Counsel Thomas Vinje applauded the Commission’s actions today, saying “we are pleased that Commissioner Almunia’s investigation has validated the concern that FairSearch members and many other businesses and consumer advocates have raised about Google’s practices that distort the free market and deprive consumers of the transparency and real choice that only results from competitive markets…We expect that any settlement that meets Commissioner Almunia’s high standards for restoring lawful competition to the marketplace will include enforceable conditions that bring an effective end to Google’s unfair and abusive business practices, and that promote meaningful competitive alternatives for consumers. Any settlement between Google and the EC would need to restore lost competition and remedy the anticompetitive effects of Google’s conduct in both specialized and general search.”