12142017What's Hot:

Google Said to Face $1.2 Billion Antitrust Fine, but Battle With Europe Looms

No matter the final outcome, analysts warn that jockeying for greater regulatory control over Google’s services in Europe will drag on for months, if not years, as the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, tries to turn its expected antitrust decision against Google into a reality.

“The issue they’re facing is, how does the European Commission solve the underlying problem” of Google’s suspected antitrust abuse, said Christian Bergqvist, an associate professor of competition law at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. “It will be very difficult to structure any remedy.”

As part of her decision, which is likely on Tuesday but may be delayed, Margrethe Vestager, Europe’s competition chief, is expected to call for Google to change how it ranks some of its search products to give its rivals — a collection of mostly small European and American tech companies — greater prominence when people search online.

How Google responds to these demands will be left to the company, which must provide the region’s authorities with potential technical solutions to counter its perceived antitrust abuse. Officials can ask for more changes if they are not satisfied with Google’s initial proposals.

Experts and some of the company’s competitors claim that any changes would most likely require greater oversight of Google’s products, including a potential independent monitor over its search services (and, potentially, its algorithms) in Europe to guarantee that it continues to comply with the antitrust ruling.

A spokeswoman for the European Commission declined to comment on the potential announcement.

Google, which has repeatedly said that it has not done anything illegal, said that it continued to work with the region’s authorities on the antitrust investigation, which began in 2010.

“We believe strongly that our innovations in online shopping have been good for shoppers, retailers and competition,” Al Verney, a company spokesman, said in a statement.

Google’s Antitrust Battles

The coming announcement against Google represents a watershed moment for the search giant, which holds more than 90 percent of the market in online search across Europe. Still, the potential fine represents a mere fraction of the company’s $ 90.3 billion in revenue in 2016.

Ms. Vestager first charged the company in 2015 with unfairly diverting online traffic from competitors to favor its own comparison shopping site. That investigation was followed a year later by similar European antitrust charges against Android, Google’s popular mobile software, and, in July 2016, accusations that Google illegally promoted some of its advertising services over those of others. The company denies all of the charges.

Other American tech companies, including Apple, Facebook and Amazon, also remain under investigation by European officials for a variety of antitrust, tax and privacy reasons. And while the companies deny any wrongdoing, the continued focus, and potential hefty fines, have given European authorities an increasingly large say over how much of the internet is regulated. That position comes despite European tech companies mostly failing to keep pace with their American counterparts.

“Europe has been more aggressive in enforcement of monopolies than the U.S.,” said Nicolas Petit, a professor of competition law and economics at the University of Liège in Belgium. “In Europe, we’re more threatened by the dominance of big companies.”

As Google and its foes prepare for battle over how the search giant should comply with Europe’s upcoming antitrust decision, much attention will focus on lessons from a previous failed attempt to settle the online shopping case in 2014.

Joaquín Almunia, Europe’s then-competition chief, had won concessions from Google that allowed its rivals to be given greater prominence in people’s specialized search results related to shopping, restaurants and local business reviews.

Yet that deal quickly fell apart after competitors complained that they would have to pay Google to be shown next to individuals’ online queries. French and German politicians also warned that the proposed agreement still allowed the search giant to maintain its online dominance. European antitrust officials eventually scrapped the deal, and reopened the investigation.

Analysts and Google’s rivals stressed that any new proposal must go further than these previous efforts, which included placing competitors’ ads online alongside Google’s own digital advertising.

To ensure the company complies, one remedy may include the regular monitoring of Google’s action by an outside group. The company, however, also has the option of removing some of its specialized search results altogether, or returning them to what they looked like before Europe’s investigation began almost a decade ago.

“All that the complainants are asking for is that Google restores the level playing field,” said Shivaun Raff, a founder of Foundem, a British comparison shopping site that was the first company to file a complaint against Google.

For Michael Weber, director of Hot Maps, a German digital mapping company, the conclusion to Europe’s antitrust investigation into Google’s online shopping service cannot come soon enough.

Hot Maps has filed a complaint against the search giant for favoring its mapping product over those of rivals. Google denies the accusations, but Mr. Weber hopes that Europe’s pending antitrust decision — and large fine — can be used as a precedent in his case, which is separate, but connected, to the online shopping charges.

“I can’t image life without being a complainant against Google, it’s been going on for such a long time,” said Mr. Weber, who first filed his claim in 2011. “It has become something like a marriage.”

Source: NYT > World

comments powered by HyperComments

More on the topic