European regulators have taken a tough with Google, making a preliminary ruling that it may be abusing its dominance over the search industry...Vic Gundotra, senior vice president of engineering, wears the Google Glass. Photo: AFP
There soon could be two Googles: One built for Europeans, with links to rival search engines and labels alerting users whenever Google is featuring its own products. And another version for everyone else, with none of those consumer-friendly features.
The variations would result from what amounts to a split decision in two high-profile antitrust investigations into the California-based search giant, one by US regulators, the other by Europeans.
Google emerged from the Federal Trade Commission's probe in January with only modest concessions as US officials essentially dismissed the most serious allegations of monopolistic behaviour - namely that the company manipulated search results to benefit its services.
But European regulators took a tougher line Thursday, making a preliminary ruling that Google may be abusing its dominance over the search industry. The victims, the European officials said in a break with the FTC's ruling, were not merely rival companies but consumers, who would benefit from a freer marketplace.
"The Commission considers at this stage that these practices could harm consumers by reducing choice and stifling innovation in the fields of specialised search services and online search advertising," European regulators said in a statement issued Thursday.
To ease this impact, Google has agreed to make a series of changes to ensure that users understand the difference between neutral results - generated by search algorithms - and ones for which Google profits more directly, either through payments from advertisers or by enticing users toward one of the company's other offerings, such as its shopping or travel services.
Google's rivals, whose complaints sparked the investigations in Europe and the United States, were quick to criticise the proposal as too weak as they prepared to push for bigger changes in a comment period scheduled over the next month. At the same time, however, they grumbled that the FTC should have required Google to at least make the same concessions for users in the United States.
"The Federal Trade Commission looks like a weak sister here," said Gary Reback, an attorney for competitors of Google who has criticized the FTC's handling of the case. "Europeans will have more choices than Americans."
The Europeans addressed this issue directly in a Q&A, noting that Google's market share in Europe is higher than in the United States - about 90 per cent in Europe compared with roughly 67 per cent here - making the legal case on monopolistic behaviour easier. Europe's regulators also have tighter antitrust laws and are less likely to be overturned by an appeals court, legal experts says.
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