Google faces EU scrutiny after complaints

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union antitrust regulators are looking into complaints filed by three online companies against Google that may lead to a formal investigation into the search-engine giant’s business practices.

An employee answers phone calls at the switchboard of the Google office in Zurich August 18, 2009. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

The European Commission, tasked with ensuring that companies do not abuse any dominant position in the 27-country EU, can fine firms up to 10 percent of their revenues for violations.

It has to date imposed billions of euros in fines against Intel and Microsoft for abuse of market dominance.

“The Commission can confirm that it has received three complaints against Google which it is examining. The Commission has not opened a formal investigation for the time being,” the EU executive said in a statement on Wednesday.

It did not identify the companies.

World No.1 search engine Google said earlier 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.

It said Microsoft-owned Ciao from Bing had complained about its standard terms and conditions.

Google said it had done nothing wrong and was confident it would not face a formal investigation.

“This is the beginning of an enquiry, in all likelihood it will not go anywhere. The Commission has not expressed any hint of guilt,” Google senior competition counsel Julia Holtz told reporters on a conference call.

Google had 90 percent of the global search market compared with 7.4 percent for a combined Yahoo and Bing, according to November data from Web research firm StatCounter. It has drawn increasing regulatory scrutiny as it has grown.

U.S. antitrust authorities have challenged Google’s settlement with book publishers and authors groups to create an online digital archive, and are seeking more information on the competitive impact of its proposed $750 million purchase of mobile advertising company AdMob.

Editing by Timothy Heritage and Dale Hudson