A new quarter began this week, which means that it's time for the European Union to rattle its swords at Google and threaten the ad network with a stepped up antitrust investigation.
The WSJ reported late on Wednesday that unnamed sources (the best kind) told the paper that the four-year-old investigation could be going public shortly. The European Commission has reportedly been asking for permission to publish the antitrust complaints which had been filed against Google. Several companies, including shopping and travel sites, had submitted information confidentially - gossip, in other words.
The requests to make the information public is said to be a sign that the regulators will move forward with formal antitrust charges.
In addition to the charge that Google evilly built a search engine which is better than its competition, the commission had also been investigating whether Google had been scraping content from rivals’ sites, and unfairly restricting app developers and advertisers who do business with the ad network.
Similar charges have been made here in the US, but so far they have not stuck. A class action antitrust suit alleging that Google restricted the options of smartphone makers was dismissed in February, and a report leaked last month detailed an FTC investigation into Google which uncovered questionable activities but not anything which lead to an antitrust lawsuit.
But the US and the EU have different laws, so none of that really matters.
According to the WSJ, Google and the European Commission have not met for settlement negotiations recently, which suggests that Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s new antitrust chief, has decided to move straight on to a formal antitrust complaint rather than pursuing further talks. Her predecessor had previously tried to settle with Google on three occasions, most recently late last year.
Earlier proposed settlements had included splitting Google into several companies, but it's not clear how that would solve the problem of Google's dominance in the search engine market.
Should formal charges be filed, Google could be fined as much as 10% of its revenues for the previous years (in the range of $6 billion to $7 billion). Nor is the European Commission shy about using this option. In 2009, it fined Intel $1.44 billion for antitrust violations, while Microsoft was fined $732 million in 2013 for violating an earlier antitrust settlement.
image by tm-tm