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EU Competition Commissioner spells out priorities: Google as Alphabet is still under investigation

Peter Sayer | Oct. 27, 2015
Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager is investigating Google on a number of fronts.

margrethe vestager
European Union Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, announcing the laying of formal antitrust charges against Google in Brussels on April 15, 2015 Credit: European Commission

Spinning off some of its activities into separate companies under the Alphabet umbrella isn't going to make Google's problems with Europe's top antitrust authority go away: European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager still has the company in her sights.

Google figured heavily in a wide-ranging interview with the Wall Street Journal, published Monday, in which Vestager discussed many of the cases before her.

Here's a list of the Commission's ongoing areas of action against Google, and what's next for each of them.

Comparison shopping

After investigating complaints from a number of comparison shopping and vertical search sites, including U.K. search engine Foundem, Microsoft-owned Ciao and the French 1plusV, the European Commission filed formal charges against Google on April 15, accusing it of illegally favoring its own service Google Shopping over those of its rivals in search results.

The search giant had previously appeared close to reaching a settlement with the Commission, but the filing of a formal Statement of Objections put an end to that.

What's next

The Commission is now analyzing Google's response to the charges before making a decision on whether to impose a fine or other remedies.

"It is high priority but it will take some time because it is analysis and data comparison et cetera, which is challenging," Vestager told the Journal.

Android

On the same day Vestager announced the charges against Google over its treatment of price comparators, she opened a new investigation into Google's use of the Android operating system. The core of the Android operating system, the Android Open Source Project, is free software, but most Android smartphones ship with proprietary Google services for mapping, search and buying additional apps.

The Commission is investigating whether Google hinders the development of alternatives to its own services in these areas by requiring that smartphone and tablet manufacturers exclusively pre-install its own apps and services.

What's next

The Commission is making this investigation a high priority, as it is particularly important for phone makers and app developers, Vestager told the Journal.

However, there is no deadline for filing charges once the Commission has opened an investigation, so this one could run and run. The main effect of declaring an investigation open is that national competition authorities can no longer accept cases of their own on this matter.

Advertising

The investigation that resulted in the comparison shopping charges drew the attention of companies in other markets that felt they had suffered illegally at Google's hands, ultimately prompting the Commission to also investigate Google's behavior in the online advertising market. Its concerns included the effect of exclusivity deals with publishers, and restrictions in Google's standard contracts preventing advertisers from moving their online campaigns to rival platforms.

 

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