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Google Gets Hit with Antitrust Charges by EU

The European Union (EU) on Wednesday formally accused Google of violating antitrust laws by using its dominance in search to favor its own comparison-shopping service over those of competitors.

According to a press release from the European Commission, "Google gives systematic 'favourable' treatment to its comparison shopping product (currently called 'Google Shopping') in its general search results pages, e.g. by showing Google Shopping more prominently on the screen."

Google diverts traffic from other companies' comparison-shopping services, obstructing their ability to compete, said the EU complaint. "The Commission is concerned that users do not necessarily see the most relevant results in response to queries -- this is to the detriment of consumers, and stifles innovation," it said. The EU says it wants Google to operate its own comparison-shopping service in the same way as it treats those of rivals.

In response to the allegation, Google said in a blog post that it has plenty of competitors and argued that its own offerings are often underdogs.

"Indeed if you look at shopping -- an area where we have seen a lot of complaints and where the European Commission has focused in its Statement of Objections -- it's clear that (a) there's a ton of competition (including from Amazon and eBay, two of the biggest shopping sites in the world) and (b) Google's shopping results have not harmed the competition," said Amit Singhal, senior vice president of Google Search, wrote in the post. "Companies like Facebook, Pinterest and Amazon have been investing in their own search services and search engines like Quixey, DuckDuckGo and Qwant have attracted new funding. We're seeing innovation in voice search and the rise of search assistants -- with even more to come."

Google has 10 weeks to respond to the complaint, at which point the EU will hold a formal hearing.

The EU is also launching a separate antitrust investigation to see if Google has used its clout as the dominant supplier of mobile phone software to hinder providers of competing mobile operating systems, namely Apple and Microsoft. Specifically, the EU is investigating whether Google has thwarted the development of mobile apps on other OS platforms by providing incentives to smartphone and tablet suppliers to install Google's apps and services exclusively.

In response to that investigation, Hiroshi Lockheimer, vice president of Android engineering at Google, said in a blog post, "Distribution agreements are not exclusive, and Android manufacturers install their own apps and apps from other companies as well. And in comparison to Apple -- the world's most profitable (mobile) phone company -- there are far fewer Google apps preinstalled on Android phones than Apple apps on iOS devices."

Google has denied both antitrust allegations.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.