EU Taking a Close Look at Google’s Antitrust Practices

The European Union is deepening its probe into allegations made against Google Inc., which state that the search engine takes advantage of its dominance in advertising contracts with website operators and copies information and content from the websites of competitors. This is just another sign that the travails of Google with the antitrust regulator of Europe are far from over. The competition watchdog of the bloc, the European Commission, has sent companies questionnaires requesting for some detailed information about the Mountain Valley, California based firm’s practices in those areas. No comment was made by either a Google spokeswoman or the European Commission.

Previously, the EU had flagged its concerns about some issues that were cited in the questionnaires. These were sent in response to a complaint that had been filed in April, which alleged that Google skewered results for favoring its comparison-shopping services. Questions about ‘exclusivity obligations’ have been asked in one of the questionnaires. This basically means whether website operators are prevented or obstructed by the search engine giant from placing ads on their website that directly compete with Google’s own advertising business. The commission has requested the companies to give an updated response to this question, which were previously provided in 2010.

The Commission also wants to get its hands on the advertising agreement that the companies had with Google in the last four years. There was also another questionnaire that was aimed at investigating whether Google ‘scrapes’ or copies content from competitors’ websites and it asks the firms to provide information about whether content from the companies is taken by Google such as images and used in its own online services. A formal complaint has also been filed with the commission by publisher of The Wall Street Journal, News Corp. regarding Google’s competition practices.

Google’s deadline for making a response to the formal charges is 31st August in the shopping case. The deadline has already been extended twice by the commission. The conduct of Google with its mobile operating system is also being investigated by the commission. The charges imposed by the EU could be around billions of euros in fines and the company may also have to make changes to its business practices. When the shopping charges were filed against Google in April by the antitrust commissioner Margrethe Vestager. She also said that investigations into Google’s practices would be continued, which included those of scraping content.

The request made by the commission for providing updated information about exclusivity suggests that the commission suspects something and may have found something in the previous complaint submissions. It could be working on accumulating additional evidence for filing formal charges, which would expand those filed in April. The companies have also been asked to outline any clauses in their agreements with Google that prevent them from displaying ads from rivals and why they had agreed to accept them. As far as scraping is concerned, companies are asked in questionnaires whether they have control over their images being used by Google. 

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