On Friday Travel site Expedia filed an antitrust complaint against Google with the EU. That brings the number of formal anti-competition complaints in Europe to 12. According to a widely quoted statement from Expedia the complaint ‘offers evidence of how Google’s conduct harms not only competition, but consumers.” The specific “evidence” was not made public.
EU antitrust commissioner Joaquín Almunia has said that a decision about whether to formally charge Google will come after the Easter holiday in Europe. The focus of many of the EU complaints has been the argument that Google unfairly channels traffic to its own properties. That is likely a central pillar of the Expedia claim(s) as well. We have not read the complaint however.
With this latest complaint there is increasing pressure on Almunia’s office to formally charge Google. Indeed, I would not expect the EU to simply drop the case and say that nothing Google is doing violates EU regulations. It would make Almunia and his office appear ineffectual — especially in light of the high profile nature of the investigation and the outcry from many quarters in Europe that Google is now too powerful.
What the EU might do to “remedy” the problem is far from clear however. There might be formal “charges” followed by a settlement or fines. However, fines by themselves will not satisfy critics and would have little impact on Google.
Yet regulating what Google can and cannot show in its search results or where things can appear on the page is fundamentally problematic, as we’ve written before many times.
Postscript: With similar-sounding claims, fellow FairSearch.org member TripAdvisor has also filed an antitrust complaint against Google in an effort to put pressure on the EU to bring formal charges against the company. If there is indeed a late “piling on” strategy going on I would expect a few more companies to take similar action in the next week.