Google complainants urge EU regulators to file charges

BRUSSELS, March 21 Thu Mar 21, 2013 8:49am EDT

BRUSSELS, March 21 (Reuters) - Eleven companies with grievances against Google urged EU antitrust regulators on Thursday to formally charge the world's No.1 search engine of anti-competitive practices instead of pursuing settlement talks.

The European Commission is now examining proposals put forward by Google in January aimed at ending a two-year investigation and averting a possible fine that could reach $5 billion or 10 percent of the company's 2012 revenues.

Neither the Commission nor Google, which has a market share of over 80 percent in Europe, has provided details of the offer which came after more than a dozen companies, including Microsoft, accused it of using its market dominance to block competitors.

EU regulators said Google may have violated antitrust rules by favouring its own services over those of rivals, copying travel and restaurant reviews from competing sites without their permission, and placing restrictions on advertisers using its services.

Among the companies which said they were not convinced Google's proposal would resolve the issue were British price comparison site Foundem, online travel sites Expedia and Tripadvisor, two online mapping companies and two trade bodies representing German publishers.

"Google's past behaviour suggests that it is unlikely to volunteer effective, future-proof remedies without being formally charged with infringement," the group wrote in a letter to EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia.

"Given this, and the fact that Google has exploited every delay to further entrench, extend, and escalate its anti-competitive activities, we urge the Commission to issue the statement of objections," they said.

The statement of objections (SO) is a document in which the EU competition authority lays out its concerns which companies need to address. The SO, which typically takes several years to complete, could result in a hefty fine as well as an order to stop the anti-competitive practices.

Neither Google nor the Commission responded to emails for comments.

People familiar with the matter have previously told Reuters that Google, as part of a settlement, had offered to label its own services in search results to differentiate them from rival services, and also to impose fewer restrictions on advertisers.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission in January ended its own investigation into Google's business practices without any significant action, handing Google a major victory.

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