EU Competition Chief Suggests Google May Face Years Of Antitrust Investigations
Europe’s chief competition regulator Margrethe Vestager has indicated that Alphabet/Google will likely face multiple antitrust investigations that could last years. The current Google case involves the company’s alleged abuse of market position in “shopping search” only. Quoted in a Wall Street Journal article, Vestager points to Google Maps and travel search as two future areas […]
Europe’s chief competition regulator Margrethe Vestager has indicated that Alphabet/Google will likely face multiple antitrust investigations that could last years. The current Google case involves the company’s alleged abuse of market position in “shopping search” only.
Quoted in a Wall Street Journal article, Vestager points to Google Maps and travel search as two future areas of inquiry. Interestingly she suggests that any rules or settlements that emerge from shopping won’t necessarily apply to other “vertical” areas of search:
“The shopping case may have similarities when we eventually look at maps and travel and a number of other related services, because the complaints sort of tell the same story,” Ms. Vestager said. “But there is no such thing as you have done one, you’ve done them all. You can’t do that.”
Taking a defiant position Google has decided to fight the EU, calling its “Statement of Objections” (SO) unfounded:
The SO says that Google’s displays of paid ads from merchants (and, previously, of specialized groups of organic search results) “diverted” traffic away from shopping services. But the SO doesn’t back up that claim, doesn’t counter the significant benefits to consumers and advertisers, and doesn’t provide a clear legal theory to connect its claims with its proposed remedy.
Given Vestager’s comments and the “nationalist” political climate in Europe it’s probable that Google may need to take the case to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, the equivalent of the US Supreme Court in many respects. If Google were to succeed there it could shut down future antitrust investigations against individual search “products” such as Maps.
In addition to the shopping search case, there’s a pending investigation of Android as well as one concerning Google’s contracts with publishers that use its Display Network.
Though it may be years away, the likely result of the Android investigation will be the removal of Google app pre-installation requirements on phone makers as a condition of gaining access to Google Play. Recently Russian competition authorities determined that required app pre-installation rules were an abuse of market position in that country.
The European Commission’s work, at least with respect to companies such as Google and Facebook, is partly influenced by a broader business climate of anti-American hostility. Many companies in Europe (especially traditional publishers) blame Google for their competitive challenges — and sincerely believe Google is responsible for the difficulties they face in the market.
The effort to restrain US companies can also be seen in various efforts to impose strict copyright laws that are effectively a “Google tax,” seeking to bolster faltering newspaper publishers. In addition this animates the recent Schrems vs Facebook court decision invalidating the US-EU negotiated Safe Harbor agreement allowing data transfers between the two economies.