Wed, Dec 01, 2010 - Page 11 News List

Google facing probe by EU antitrust regulators

EXCLUSIVITY OBLIGATIONS:The regulators have the authority to impose fines of up to 10 percent of revenues for Google, whose rivals accuse it of stifling innovation

Bloomberg

Google Inc is being probed by EU antitrust regulators for allegedly discriminating against competing services in its search results and for stopping some Web sites from accepting rival ads.

The European Commission will determine whether Google “imposes exclusivity obligations on advertising partners, preventing them from placing certain types of competing ads on their Web sites, as well as on computer and software vendors, with the aim of shutting out competing search tools,” it said in an e-mailed -statement yesterday.

Microsoft Corp service Ciao from Bing, UK price-comparison site Foundem and French legal search engine Ejustice.fr filed an antitrust complaint against Google in February.

The antitrust probe adds to separate criticism from French, German and British data protection regulators over Google’s StreetView service that collects data from private homes.

“Given the dominance of Google in the European search market, this doesn’t come a huge surprise,” said Sam Hart, a media analyst at Charles Stanley in London.

He said remedies “often end up being relatively insignificant in terms of market position” and are “incredibly unlikely” to alter the company’s market position.

Antitrust regulators have the power to impose fines of up to 10 percent of revenue for monopoly abuses. The EU’s highest ever penalty of 1.06 billion euros (US$1.38 billion) was against Intel Corp last year.

Google, owner of the world’s biggest search engine, said in an e-mailed statement it “worked hard to do the right thing by our users and our industry” by marking ads clearly and enabling users and advertisers to move data to other services.

“There’s always going to be room for improvement and so we’ll be working with the commission to address any concerns,” Google, based in Mountain View, California said.

The commission said it would also investigate whether Google abused its dominant position by promoting its own services over rival price-comparison sites.

Google is “stifling innovation,” Foundem said in an e- mailed statement. It “should not be allowed to discriminate in favor of its own services” and should clearly label its own services in search results, the UK shopping-search site said.

On Sept. 25, the commission said it had closed investigations into Apple Inc’s practices after it relaxed restrictions on the development tools for iPhone applications and introduced cross-border iPhone warranty repair services within the EU region.

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