Google faces European probe into search engine

Google faces a new antitrust attack from EU regulators who allege the search engine skews results in its own favour and unfairly restricts rival online advertising platforms.

The European Commission sent the Alphabet unit two statements of objections yesterday, widening a five-year probe and increasing the risk of hefty fines for the US Internet giant.

Adding to an antitrust complaint over Google’s Android smartphone software earlier this year, EU regulators said they have “a broad range of additional evidence and data” Google systematically favours its own comparison-shopping service in its general search results.

“We see that happen very, very, very often,” EU antitrust commissioner Margrethe Vestager told journalists about how often Google pushes its own search results.

“This is where we have the strongest evidence and it’s the same kind of investigation we are pursuing when it comes to travel and local search to see if we find a pattern that suggests Google is abusing a dominant position in general search,” she said.

Google also hindered competition for online ads with its AdSense for Search product to place advertising on websites, including retailers, telecommunications operators and newspapers, the commission said.

The company prevented customers from accepting rival search ads from 2006 and maintained restrictions on how competitors’ ads were displayed when it altered contracts in 2009, according to the EU’s antitrust arm.

“We believe our innovations and product improvements have increased choice for European consumers and promote competition,” Google said in a statement.

“We’ll examine the commission’s renewed cases and provide a detailed response in the coming weeks,” it said. The EU has expanded its investigations into Google’s business practices since Ms Vestager took over as the bloc’s antitrust chief in late 2014.

“This demonstrates her determination to pursue the matter vigorously and to follow the investigation wherever it leads,” said Thomas Vinje, a lawyer with Clifford Chance who represents FairSearch Europe, whose members include Expedia and Nokia.


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