EU close to bringing charges against Google in antitrust case

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14 April 2015

Google might come under the EU's antitrust investigation into whether the tech giant had abused its dominant search position in Europe.

The case had stretched over five years already, with investigators considering whether the search giant might have taken advantage of its overwhelming market share to benefit its own products and services.

The New York Times reported that it was expected that Europe's antitrust commissioner Margrethe Vestager would file formal charges against Google potentially resulting in a huge penalty for the search engine firm of up to 4.4 billion, after the case was initially brought by Michael Weber, owner of Hot-Map.com, which saw traffic drop 80 per cent, something Weber blamed on Google.

Despite the EU rejecting three attempts at settlement, former competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia did not file formal charges against Google.

According to the the report, his successor, Margrethe Vestager, was close to making a statement of objections (formal charges) to pressure Google into making bigger commitments to reform its practices.

However,  Liza Lovdahl-Gormsen, director of the Competition Law Forum at the British Institute of International and Comparative Law, told NYT, Google might try to buy itself time by offering commitments that were not likely to be accepted by the commission, and that it knew would not be accepted by the market, simply because it did not want to be faced with the instrument of torture - the statement of objections.

However, she added Vestager was not likely to proceed without filing the charges, simply because that approach failed under Almunia.

Meanwhile, EU digital commissioner, Gunther Oettinger, told German publication Die Welt that the European Commission would make a ruling in the case "very soon".

The record penalty imposed on a company for competition offences was 800 million, levied on Intel in 2009 for abuse of its market dominance in the computer chip market.

Google could face a fine as much as 4.4 billion.

Microsoft faced fines totaling almost 1.4 billion over a decade for antitrust-related issues.

While tough action against Google would be welcomed by the search company's rivals in Europe, US president Barack Obama warned Europe in February against making "commercially driven" decisions to penalise Google and Facebook.

Google had offered three settlements earlier to resolve the case.

A year ago it offered higher visibility to competing products on the site. It also offered to make it easier for advertisers to move their campaigns to rivals.





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