EU's Almunia: close eye on search engine complaints

LONDON, July 7 (Reuters) - EU regulators are taking a hard look at allegations of anti-competitive behaviour in Internet search services amid concerns dominant players may be abusing their position, Europe’s antitrust chief said on Wednesday.

European Union Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia did not specify any company. He was making his first comments since three online firms complained to the European Commission about world No. 1 search engine Google GOOG.O in February.

“My services are currently examining some allegations of anti-competitive conduct in relation to search,” Almunia told a conference organised by the UCL Jevons Institute for Competition Law and Economics.

“The work is at an early stage, but given the importance of search to a competitive online marketplace, I am looking at the allegations very carefully,” he said.

Google said in February that British price comparison site Foundem and French legal search engine had alleged that its search algorithm demoted their sites in Web search results because they were rivals of Google.

It said Microsoft-owned MSFT.O service Ciao from Bing had complained about Google's standard terms and conditions. Google denied it had done anything wrong. "If companies do establish themselves in a strong position on a market, there may be risks that they will use this position to foreclose other markets," Almunia said.

The Commission, executive arm of the European Union, can fine companies up to 10 percent of global turnover for breaching EU competition rules. (Reporting by Foo Yun Chee, editing by Dale Hudson)