Google could be hit with fines from the EU in a matter of weeks unless it resolves a number of issues relating to how it displays search results.
The vice-president of the European Commission, who is also responsible for competition policy, Joaquín Almunia, said they had identified four issues that could be considered an abuse by Google of its dominant position in the market.
Mr Almunia said: “I am today giving Google an opportunity to offer remedies to address the concerns we have already identified.
“Our investigation has led us to identify four concerns where Google business practices may be considered as abuses of dominance.”
The first concern relates to the hierarchical presentation of search result, with Google giving preferential treatment to its own vertical search services by displaying them differently.
There were also concerns Google could be infringing on copyright of other sites, in particular travel sites. “Google may be copying original material from the websites of its competitors such as user reviews and using that material on its own sites without their prior authorisation,” Mr Almunia said.
“In this way they are appropriating the benefits of the investments of competitors. We are worried that this could reduce competitors’ incentives to invest in the creation of original content for the benefit of internet users.”
The EU also said exclusivity agreements between Google and third-party websites to provide search-related advertising was harming intermediary advertising services.
The commission’s final concern was that Google imposed contractual rest-rictions on software developers stopping them from providing tools to transfer search advertising campaigns across AdWords on to other platforms.
A spokesperson for Google said they did not agree with the findings, but were happy to discuss them. “We’ve only just started to look through the commission’s arguments. We disagree with the conclusions but we’re happy to discuss any concerns they might have. Competition on the web has increased dramatically in the last two years since the commission started looking at this and the competitive pressures Google faces are tremendous. Innovation online has never been greater.”
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