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Turning The Tables, Google Argues EU Must Justify More Aggressive Antitrust Stance
Google lays out formal legal arguments against EU antitrust charges.
As part of its defiant stance against EU antitrust charges, Alphabet (Google) is arguing that there’s no basis for assessing fines against the company, which hypothetically could amount to more than $6 billion. That’s according to a 130-page formal legal response submitted to the European Commission that has been reviewed by the Wall Street Journal.
The WSJ quotes the Google document and accuses the Commission of a kind of unjustified reversal in its position vis-a-vis the company:
“The theory on which the [EU’s] preliminary conclusions rest is so ambiguous that the Commission itself concluded three times that the concern had been resolved,” Google’s lawyers wrote in the document.
The response also asserts, according to the WSJ report, that the EU wants the company to effectively “subsidize competitors.” It’s not entirely clear what “subsidize” means (I have not seen the document), except that it may mean any limitation of Google’s control over its own SERP benefits others not similarly restrained.
One of the suggestions promoted to the European Commission by Yelp and others is that Google equally subject its “own products” to its algorithm (e.g., Maps, Shopping, etc.). Google resits that idea, citing previous European Commission chief Joaquín Almunia, who reportedly said this wouldn’t address “competition concerns.”
Google had previously believed it had reached a settlement with Almunia, who couldn’t make it stick politically and was effectively overruled by European parliamentarians and other politicians in Europe who wanted to see Google punished or subjected to stricter “remedies.”
Margrethe Vestager succeeded the more compromise-minded Almunia and has taken a tougher line against the company, including suggesting that the antitrust charges and investigations are just beginning.
According to the WSJ report, Google is arguing that its previous settlement proposal has not been proven legally insufficient. It also takes the position that the European Commission bears the burden of proving that Google is essentially a public utility in this case.
Currently, only the question of Google’s shopping search results is formally at issue. Google argues it cannot be considered a public utility in shopping search because of robust competition from other sites, such as eBay and Amazon in particular.
If the European Commission refuses to change its position, the case may wind up in appeals, the ultimate resolution of which could take several years. Google appears to be girding for that fight.