Europe Accuses Google of Abusing Its Position as Search Engine Giant

Google defends against the European Commission's claims that it stifles competition.

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Apr 15 2015, 11:55am

​Image: l i g h t p o e t / Shutterstock.com

​The European Union's competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, today formally sent a Statement of Obj​ections to Google based on the search giant's alleged abuse of antitrust rules that has afforded it dominance in the market. This, according to the European Commission (EC), has been detrimental to both consumers and online competitors.

The statement follows on from a five-year investigation, whereby various complainants from consumers to Google rivals have accused the​ US group of diverting traffic from competitors, and channelling it toward Google's own services.

"My goal is to ensure that consumers and competitors can benefit from a competitive environment," stated Vestager in a press conference at Brussels. She said that, "It's for the sake of consumers and innovation." Vestager stressed that, "Consumers must get the best possible results from their query to enable choice" and that "businesses must be able to present their innovative products to their customers."

According to Vestager, Google has had a market share of 90 percent in most countries for many years. She said that market dominance was not a problem itself under EU law. She asserted, however, that dominant companies had a responsibility not to abuse their positions of power to restrict competition in both the market that they dominated, and in neighbouring ones. "A dominant position should not be abused to give preference to your own product," she said.

Online shoppers wish to see a non-biased and broad and varied spectrum of the kind of products that they can purchase. However, Vestager stated that the problem was that, "in its general internet search results Google artificially favours its own comparison shopping services," and that this "constitutes an abuse." This means, the EC argues, that consumers may not be seeing what's most relevant to their query, and it also impedes Google's rivals from having their products seen.​

Vestager said the EC did not wish to interfere with screen design or how algorithms work, but ensure that consumers see the best comparison shopping results. She stressed that the EC was there to enforce EU competition law, and that if Google's infringement was proven, a case focusing on comparison shopping could establish a broader precedent into Google's other areas of market reach—be that maps, flights, or hotel services, for example.

In a separate blow to Google's US group, Vestager also announced that the EC would be launching a formal investigation into Google's Android operating systems. This investigation will focus on whether Google has breached EU antitrust laws by preventing competing mobile operating systems from developing and having market access.

In Google's internal memo, obtained by the Financi​al Times, Google defended its position, asserting, "We have a very strong case, with especially good arguments when it comes to better services for users and increased competition."

In a resp​onse to today's statement, Google's senior vice president of Search Amit Singhal responded on the company blog by saying that "We respectfully but strongly disagree with the need to issue a Statement of Objections." Countering the EC's allegations of search engine dominance, the tech giant asserts that competition is thriving. Singhal's post demonstrates this by presenting three charts from analytics company ComScore MMX and Google internal data, showing shopping site searches from France, Germany and the UK. He uses the charts to contextualise Google's own position in relation to competitors such as Amazon and eBay, to suggest that competition has been unharmed by its own shopping service.

While it was expected that the EC would either settle at the last minute, or charge Google with antitrust violations, Vestager stated that the road ahead was "open," and that the EC would decide their next step based on how Google responds to the official statement. The tech behemoth now has ten weeks to mull over a response.