EC exec says Google antitrust probe continues

Anticompetition official said he's investigating allegations by Google rivals 'very carefully'

Europe's top antitrust official said Wednesday that his office is continuing to investigate antitrust concerns about Google Inc.

During a speech about digital media today in London, Joaquin Almunia, a vice president of the European Commission responsible for competition policy, did not specifically name Google, but did cite a search engine that holds 95% of market share in Europe. Google is by far the most widely used search engine in Europe -- and around the globe.

Yahoo is a distant second in Europe with a market share that normally ranges from single digits into the teens.

"Dominance on the Internet is difficult to establish," Almunia said, according to a transcript of the speech. "On the internet, information travels fast and users may be very reactive. If results on a search engine, for instance, are being manipulated, it may well make a difference on the market if consumers know about it. But is transparency enough?"

Almunia added that, as has been widely reported since early this year, his office is in the midst of investigating allegations of anti-competitive conduct in the search business. Google has confirmed that it is a target of the probe.

"The work is at an early stage, but given the importance of search to a competitive online marketplace, I am looking at the allegations very carefully," he said.

A Google spokesman said the company is aware of the ongoing inquiry and has been cooperating with the commission.

"As Commissioner Almunia has indicated, the commission's inquiry is at an early, fact-finding stage," the spokesman said in a statement emailed to Computerworld. "We're working with the commissioner and his team to answer their questions, including how Google's search ranking works to produce the most relevant and useful search results for users. We're very confident that our business operates in the interests of both users and partners, as well as within European competition law."

Last February, Google revealed in a blog post that the EU had begun investigating the company for possible anticompetitive behavior following complaints filed against it by three competitors.

Julia Holtz, Google's top antitrust lawyer, claimed in the post that the EC investigation was triggered by complaints filed by Foundem, a U.K. price comparison site, eJustice.fr, a French legal search engine, and Ciao, a German search site that had been acquired by Microsoft Corp.

Analysts noted in February that Microsoft would likely benefit if the Google investigation grows into a multipronged, messy case.

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Tags governmentregulationinternetGooglesearch enginesYahooeuropean commissionInternet SearchGov't LegislationGov't Legislation/RegulationGovernment/Industries

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Computerworld Staff

Computerworld (US)
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