EU accuses Google of hurting consumers, competitors in Web search case

Wed Apr 15, 2015 6:02pm EDT
 
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By Alastair Macdonald and Julia Fioretti

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union accused Google Inc on Wednesday of cheating consumers and competitors by distorting Web search results to favor its own shopping service, after a five-year investigation that could change the rules for business online.

It also started another antitrust investigation into the Android mobile operating system, a key element in Google's strategy to maintain revenues from online advertising as people switch from Web browser searches to smartphone apps.

EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said the U.S. company, which dominates Internet search engine markets worldwide, had been sent a Statement of Objections - effectively a charge sheet - to which it has 10 weeks to respond.

Investigations into Google's business practices in other areas would continue. The shopping case, on which the EU has had the most complaints dating back the longest time, could potentially set a precedent for concerns over Google's search products for hotels, flights and other services.

Vestager, a Dane who took over the politically charged case in November, announced the moves on the eve of a high-profile visit to the United States. Her findings follow nearly five years of investigation and abortive efforts by her Spanish predecessor, Joaquin Almunia, to strike deals with Google.

"I am concerned that the company has given an unfair advantage to its own comparison shopping service, in breach of EU antitrust rules," she said. Google could face fines, she warned, if the Commission proves its case that it has used its "near monopoly" in Europe to push Google Shopping ahead of rivals for the past seven years.

Google rejected the charges. Its shares closed up 0.40 percent on Wednesday after earlier losing 1 percent.

Meanwhile, Google's rivals are pushing U.S. antitrust enforcers to investigate the use of Android, two people with knowledge of the matter said.   Continued...

 
European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager addresses a news conference at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels April 15, 2015. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir