Google's EU showdown offers openings to competitors

Fri Apr 17, 2015 12:02pm EDT
 
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By Eric Auchard

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Start small, win quick, then move on to bigger issues.

That appears to be the European Union's strategy to pursue Google (GOOGL.O: Quote) in a competition dispute by choosing to push a narrow set of charges around its shopping service, while opening another investigation of Google's Android mobile phone software.

Whether or not the EU succeeds in branding Google a market-abusing monopolist in web search - a big if, given that the competition authority has yet to publish its exact charges - the Internet giant could be pinned down for years to come in regulatory procedures and legal appeals.

A drawn-out process is likely to embolden existing and would-be interlopers to step up assaults on Google's wide range of businesses, if the history of Microsoft's (MSFT.O: Quote) antitrust battles with U.S. and European regulators is any guide.

In accusing Google of anti-competitive practices against rival shopping sites, the EU competition authority said it is continuing to investigate other areas, including alleged "web scraping" to copy content off of rival travel and local business review sites, and Google's restrictive practices on advertising.

A quick EU finding that Google has abused its market power by favoring its own shopping services at the expense of non-Google websites, could set a precedent for new charges over how it handles hotels, flights and other services, experts say.

This, in turn, could renew politically charged debates over Google's tax avoidance moved and privacy safeguards.

"The concern is how broad does this investigation go?" asked Macquarie Securities analyst Ben Schachter, who tracks Google.   Continued...

 
Google and European Union logos are seen in Sarajevo, in this April 15, 2015 photo illustration. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic