Behind Google's Europe woes, American accents

Wed Nov 26, 2014 1:30pm EST
 
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By Foo Yun Chee

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - When EU politicians call for the break-up of Google, it can sound like sour grapes, the anti-American backlash of an aging Europe envious, and fearful, of the wealth and growing power of young U.S. tech giants.

But should any American take time on Thanksgiving to scoff at Thursday's non-binding vote in the European Parliament, when lawmakers may urge EU regulators to get tough with the search engine Goliath, they should know that behind the EU antitrust probe of Google stand not only Europeans but U.S. competitors.

Indeed, to many in Brussels it is Google's fellow Americans - such as Microsoft, Expedia and TripAdvisor - whose complaints and big-money lobbying have driven a four-year-old investigation by the powerful European Commission into whether Google abuses its dominance of Internet searches to push favored Web sites.

"The American companies are using the European Commission as a battleground among themselves," a senior EU official told Reuters. "They are the ones coming to us with complaints.

"They are the ones who are not happy when rivals present concessions and say these are not enough."

U.S. companies like Microsoft, hit by a $700-million fine last year for foisting its flagging Explorer browser on PC buyers, are well aware of the Commission's power in the world's biggest economic bloc. It also may seem more aggressive than its counterpart in Washington, which last year dropped its own case inquiry into Google, concluding the firm had not broken rules.

Three attempts it made to reach a settlement were turned down by EU competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia, who agreed with Google's rivals that concessions it offered to avoid a fine of up to $5 billion were not enough. The case is now in the hands of Margrethe Vestager, who succeeded Almunia this month.

U.S. tech firms "are all playing on a little playing field", said Bert Foer, head of Washington think-tank the American Antitrust Institute. "Naturally they're going to move fastest and farthest in jurisdictions that have more favorable laws.   Continued...

 
People are silhouetted as they pose with laptops in front of a screen projected with a Google logo, in this picture illustration taken in Zenica October 29, 2014.   REUTERS/Dado Ruvic