European antitrust regulators sent Google two additional “statements of objections”, saying that it had collected extensive evidence that the company favours its own comparison-shopping service in its search results and that it prevented customers of one of its popular online advertising services from placing ads with rivals and restricted how rival ads were displayed.
This is a step up for the advertising probe, which was first made in an antitrust complaint in April 2015. Both of these investigations are in addition to an ongoing antitrust case against Google for the alleged market-dominance of Android.
Meanwhile Google is facing a separate inquiry into its use of copyrighted content from European publishers and complaints about its underpayment of tax.
Google insists that its products “increased choice for European consumers and promote competition,” and that will provide a detailed response to the European Commission’s claims in the coming weeks.
Chairman Eric Schmidt has said European officials should spend more time trying to promote Europe’s own tech sector and less time trying to punish successful American companies. Of course the EU would say that is sort of the whole point. If Google was not busy shafting Europe’s tech sector it would not have to look into their anti-trust antics.
Google has got its mates in the US Treasury to complain that the EU seems to be engaging in closet protectionism by unfairly targeting large American tech companies in both antitrust and tax probes. Perhaps it is because US companies are used to telling governments what to do and getting away with murder.
Google will have eight weeks to respond to the EU’s additional evidence in the shopping inquiry and ten weeks to respond to its findings in the advertising case. Both deadlines can be extended by mutual agreement.
And then, if the Commission does ultimately find against Google, the company can appeal the decision to the EU General Court in Luxembourg, the EU’s second-highest judicial body. Decisions can be further appealed to the EU Court of Justice, the top court. An antitrust case could drag on for years: After the EU found Microsoft in violation of antitrust rules for favoring its own applications in the Windows operating system in March 2004, it took more than eight years for Microsoft to exhaust all the legal appeals over that decision and over the fines imposed.