Google faces EU probe over anti-trust claims
Google, owner of the world's most popular internet search engine, may be the subject of an extended European Union investigation after three companies, including a Microsoft Corp unit, filed anti-trust complaints.
A UK price-comparison site called Foundem, a French legal search engine called Ejustice.fr and a Microsoft service called Ciao From Bing have filed competition complaints to the European Commission, Google said yesterday in a blog posting. The EU said it hasn't opened a formal probe in the case yet.
The commission has targeted US tech companies before. Microsoft was fined €1.68bn and agreed to give consumers a choice of browsers to end a separate EU probe over its Internet Explorer. Intel, the world's biggest computer-chip maker, was fined €1.06bn in May.
"European anti-trust authorities are certainly something to watch out for," said John Eastwood, a partner at Taipei- based international law firm Eiger Law who's not familiar with the Google case. "Unlike the US, which seems subject to political whims, with the Europeans if they feel there's something to a case they'll surely sink their teeth into it."
The Brussels-based commission yesterday confirmed it was reviewing the three complaints against Google.
"The commission has not opened a formal investigation for the time being," the EU said in an emailed statement. "As is usual when the commission receives complaints, it informed Google earlier this month and asked the company to comment on the allegations."
The EU investigation wasn't the only unwelcome legal development for California-based Google in Europe yesterday. One former Google executive and two managers at the company were found guilty of privacy violations by an Italian court over a clip uploaded to the company's Google Video site in 2006.
In the EU case, Foundem and Ejustice.fr complain that Google downplays their sites in its search results, Google said. Ciao From Bing, which has been a partner of Google's AdSense service, was acquired by Microsoft in 2008. That company's concerns relate to Google's terms and conditions.
Google dominates the search-engine market. Micro-soft's Bing has made gains in the US in the past eight months. Google controlled 65.4pc of the market in January, Yahoo! ranked second with 17pc, and Bing was third with 11.3pc.
Microsoft and Yahoo plan to integrate their search businesses after winning regulatory approval for the plan from European and US agencies this month. The companies struck a 10-year agreement last July in a bid to challenge Google.