Posted by: Sam Knecht
April 20, 2015
The European Union recently served Google with an official antitrust complaint, alleging Google is a trust that “had abused its market dominance by systematically favoring its own comparison shopping service over that of its rivals.” It is also separately investigating accusations that Google uses anticompetitive practices towards device manufacturers that use Google’s Android operating system. The complaint could lead to millions in fines for Google unless it proves otherwise or changes its operations.
The investigation of Google’s search tools has been mainly focused on determining if the company prioritizes its own products, ranking them ahead of others in searches. Given that Google used in about ninety percent of web searches in Europe, this is a heavy accusation. The committee is also focused on whether Google made it difficult for marketers to switch to competitors.
The antitrust suit is a reflection of Europe’s strong feelings about protecting privacy on the internet. With Google having such a firm grasp on Europe’s search preferences, its ability to mine data and collect personal information is astronomical. With tensions between the United States and Europe already high on the data-collection front, the Snowden leak likely still on the minds of European officials, this new move is likely an extension of Europe’s growing feelings about privacy and spying.
Just over two years ago, the U.S. government made the decision not to file an antitrust lawsuit against Google, a major victory for the search engine after being investigated by the FTC for two years. In addition to the FTC saying that it lacked evidence to proceed, Google agreed to make changes to its searches to avoid a lawsuit.
The FTC ruled that Google’s searches, which displayed paid advertisements highly ranked amongst the results it returned, could be considered improvements that benefited consumers. Those companies that advertised had to offer highly competitive prices, thus giving consumers results that were both relevant and deserving of their rank. The FTC also ruled that Google acted aggressively towards its competitors but did not violate antitrust laws.
Google had to make some concessions, agreeing to license certain patents from other companies in order to make consumer products on fair terms. The company also agreed to let websites remove certain information from the company’s specialized search offerings.
While Google continues to be scrutinized in America, its biggest battle lies with Europe, where millions of dollars are at stake. While the company is likely to settle, the EU may treat Google far differently than the United States has.