EU searches the searchers

Meet_the_SearchersGoogle, Microsoft and Yahoo will be the subject of a widespread inquiry by European regulators to determine whether they are transparent enough in how they display search results.

The inquiry is as a result of European complaints that the US tech giants are not providing a level playing field for European firms and are often hogging the ball and failing to give it back.

It will not be an antitrust inquiry which can lead to fines of up to 10 percent of a company’s global sales but part of the Commission’s strategy for creating a digital single market.

The investigation will start next year, will look into the transparency of search results – involving paid for links and advertisements – and how platforms use the information they acquire.

According to Reuters, the European Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip is expected to formally announce the new strategy on May 6.

There are also concerns in Europe over how Internet companies such as Facebook and Amazon use the huge amounts of personal data they acquire.

The inquiry will also look at how platforms compensate rights-holders for showing copyrighted material and limits on the ability of individuals and businesses to move from one platform to another.

The draft “digital single market” strategy document cites potentially unfair terms limiting access to platforms, high fees and non-transparent or restrictive pricing policies as some of the areas of concern.

“While a framework exists for business-to-consumer complaints in all EU member states, no such mechanism exists for business-to-business relations,” the document states.

An earlier discussion paper, concluded there was not enough evidence to justify legislation but it was possible that the issues raised in the Google antitrust case warranted a more systemic view of the problem.