EU antitrust chief wants new talks with Google complainants

The new Commissioner needs time to decide on next steps as the matter is complex

To get up to speed with the Google antitrust investigation, the EU's new antitrust Commissioner wants to talk to parties that are directly affected by the case.

Though Margrethe Vestager said she had been following the investigations into Google's search practices closely before she was nominated as Commissioner, she still thinks new talks are necessary.

"To decide how to take our investigations forward, I need to know what those most directly affected by the practices in question have to say. I need to have a representative sample of views of those concerned," she said in a statement Tuesday. "We are talking about fast moving markets -- I have to be sure that we have all the facts up to date to get it right."

Among those affected by the practices is lead complainant Foundem, a vertical search engine that along with others filed a complaint with the European Commission in 2010 alleging that Google favored its own services in search results while reducing the visibility of results from competing sites. Other parties with an interest include online publishers and BEUC, the European Consumer Organization.

These parties all opposed the terms agreed by Google and the previous antitrust Commissioner, Joaquín Almunia, in February, calling them mostly favorable to Google as the search engine's proposals were apparently adopted wholesale by the Commission while complainants got no fair chance to express their views on the settlement.

After this flurry of negative feedback, the Commission demanded more concessions from Google. That process took time, though, leaving Almunia unable to finish the case before he handed over the reins to Vestager on Nov. 1.

"The issues at stake in our investigations have a big potential impact on many players, they are multifaceted and complex. I will therefore need some time to decide on the next steps," Vestager said. The Commission wouldn't say though how much time she is likely to need.

Foundem and BEUC did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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