EU launches Google anti-trust probe

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

BRUSSELS - The European Commission Tuesday launched an anti-trust probe into Google following claims that Google’s search engine manipulates results to harm rivals.

The investigation comes after some of Google’s business rivals complained that its search engine gave their products unfair treatment, the commission said in a statement.

The commission “has decided to open an antitrust investigation into allegations that Google Inc has abused a dominant position in online search, in violation of EU rules”, the statement said.

The investigation into Google is set to focus on the way it ranks its search hits, both those which companies pay to have prioritised (”sponsored links”) and those which the search engine generates itself.

Google’s rivals claim that it artificially lowers their rankings and boosts its own.

The launch of a probe does not mean Google is guilty, the commission stressed.

“It’s important to note that we are at the very beginning of this case … We’re saying that the allegations we have received merit further investigation, and this is what we are doing,” commission competition spokeswoman Amelia Torres said.

The commission is responsible for enforcing the EU’s strict rules on fair competition. In the past, it has hit industry titans such as Microsoft and Intel with fines of over $1 billion for what it ruled as abuse of their dominant market positions.

The investigation will also see whether Google stopped advertising companies placing adverts for competing services on their websites, the statement said.

Torres said that the commission has already informed the US justice department of its decision, as a matter of courtesy.

In an initial reaction to the announcement, Google’s office in Germany said that the company would “work closely with the commission to clear up any possible doubts”.

Google has “worked very hard since its foundation to do the right thing for our users”, the bureau said, citing the way in which the site clearly marks advertisements to distinguish them from other search hits as an example of good practice.

However, “of course there are always possibilities for further improvements”, the bureau said.

Commission officials would not be drawn on how long the probe could take, saying it would depend on the findings.

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