WSJ: Google to face anti-trust charges in Europe

The Wall Street Journal reports that Google is to face formal charges related to the abuse of their search business in Europe and also their Android business practices.

The decision was made by EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager in agreement with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and was announced today.

Charges would focus on how Google uses its dominant Internet search engine to favour its own services over those of rivals, with other companies complaining Google search results in areas like travel, shopping and maps increasingly favour Google’s own offerings, rather than links to similar online services ran by rivals.

The EU has also been running a second line of inquiry into Google’s business practices relating to its Android mobile-operating system.

Google could face a $6 billion fine, but more importantly, be forced to modify its contracts and business practices to bring them in compliance with the law.

“In the case of Google I am concerned that the company has given an unfair advantage to its own comparison shopping service, in breach of EU antitrust rules,” said EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager. “Google now has the opportunity to convince the Commission to the contrary. However, if the investigation confirmed our concerns, Google would have to face the legal consequences and change the way it does business in Europe.”

Ioannis Lianos, a professor of global competition law at University College London, said that checks on Google’s behaviour could extend beyond search into related markets, which would “really put a squeeze on how they can run their business.”

“If you are dominant in Europe, you are not allowed to tie and bundle your other services to that dominant business to the detriment of your competitors,” said Michael Weber, a director at online mapping company Hot-Map.com, which has complained to the EU about Google’s practices. “But that’s exactly what Google’s doing.”

Depending on what the court case uncovers, at present it is difficult to see how the case would directly benefit Windows Phone, but if the OS does adopt Android apps, for example, it could prevent Google from putting up artificial roadblocks to getting those apps on the OS. It could also show if Google has been preventing OEMs from releasing dual-boot Windows Phone/Android handsets as has been rumoured.

Google would have about three months to respond, with a final decision expected by the end of the year, Mr. Lianos said.

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