Google Hit With New Round Of Antitrust Charges In EU

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The European Commission has elaborated on its issues with Google's shopping service and contends Google's AdSense requirements hinder competition.

The European Commission (EC) on Thursday sent Google's parent company Alphabet two statements of objections charging that Google's search and advertising business practices harm competitors. The objections expand on past issues raised by the EC and increase the likelihood that Google will face fines.

Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager in a statement said that Google has favored its own comparison shopping service, Google Shopping, in search results, which may prevent consumers from seeing the most relevant results for their search queries. She also said the Commission believes Google has hampered competition through AdSense by limiting the ability of competitors to place ads on third-party websites.

Last year, the European Commission charged that Google systematically favored Google Shopping on search results pages. It also opened an investigation into Google's Android business practices on the belief that the company may have hindered rivals through contractual agreements with Android hardware makers. In April, the Commission laid out its objections to the way Google oversees Android.

Google has 10 weeks to respond to this latest round of search advertising objections. "We believe that our innovations and product improvements have increased choice for European consumers and promote competition," a Google spokesperson said in an emailed statement. "We'll examine the commission's renewed cases and provide a detailed response in the coming weeks."

The Commission's objections support previously raised issues through evidence related to the way Google's allegedly favors Google Shopping, the way prominent display of web links in search results affects website traffic, and the way Google Shopping traffic has grown in relation to the traffic growth seen at competing services.

The Commission also contends that Google AdSense rules requiring exclusivity, premium search ad placement, and the right to authorize competing ads violate EU antitrust regulations.

Google search business came under scrutiny of the European Commission in 2010. By 2014, the company had agreed to settle the inquiry, following its settlement of a similar investigation conducted by the US Federal Trade Commission. But with Vestager's nomination in September 2014 as the replacement for outgoing Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia, the European Commission chose to expand its inquiry rather than accept Google's proposed settlement.

Google also faces antitrust troubles in Russia. Last year, Russia's Federal Antimonopoly Service said Google had broken its rules. Google appealed but a Moscow court upheld the ruling in March.

The Commission's latest objections were welcomed by Thomas Vinje, counsel for FairSearch, a lobbying group supported by companies that have complained to EU regulators about Google's practices. FairSearch members include Oracle, which continues to pursue legal action against Google over Android despite Google's recent legal victory; Expedia; and TripAdvisor.

"At stake is fair competition across Europe and beyond, because the online market and innovation are global," said Vinje in a statement. "Google's actions have hindered the ability to compete for innovators and small- and medium-sized companies in Europe, the United States, and many other regions."

For years, Microsoft supported FairSearch, but it withdrew last December. In April, Google and Microsoft agreed to abandon regulatory disputes against each other.

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