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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.

Those concerns were still live in September last year, when outgoing competition commissioner Joaquín Almunia was negotiating a settlement with Google that would have covered them all, but when Vestager took over the post in November and pushed for charges rather than a settlement, the Commission clearly felt it could only muster hard evidence to make the comparison shopping charge stick.

Vestager's philosophy is that the various complaints should be treated separately in order to give Google a fair hearing.

"I do not think of it as one Google case but literally as different investigations and different cases," she told the Journal. "What they have in common is that the name Google appears in each one, but apart from that they are very different."

Reports emerged in August that the Commission had received two further complaints about Google's advertising practices, although neither is listed in the Commission's online register of ongoing investigations. Also that month, the Commission reportedly sent out questionnaires asking companies for information about the advertising contracts Google has used over the last four years.

What's next

With the advertising antitrust investigation still very much live, although not a top priority, Commission staff will continue studying complaints and analyzing the responses to the questionnaires.

The investigation could yet be dropped, or result in a settlement or a formal statement of objections.

Site scraping

Much like the investigation of Google's advertising sales, complaints about the company's scraping of copyright information from other websites have been spun off into an investigation of their own.

The Commission is said to have also circulated a questionnaire to website operators in August, asking them about the ways in which Google takes their content, such as photographs, and uses it in its own services.

What's next

The Commission must now analyze the results of its questionnaire.

Vestager is keen not to overreach with this investigation, giving the Journal a strong hint that it might ultimately go nowhere.

"It’s very important to make sure we are not trying to do what is basically for copyright" law to deal with, she said.

Other vertical search services

In filing charges against Google in April, the Commission noted that it was still pursuing formal investigations into Google's favorable treatment of other specialized search services in its general search results.

Those areas seem to have been left on the back burner, though, with Vestager telling the Journal that "when we eventually look at maps and travel, and a number of other related services," the Commission may find similarities with its comparison shopping investigation, as all the complaints tell a similar story of companies feeling that they had been demoted in search results.

What's next

A long wait, unless fresh complaints with more clear-cut evidence of wrongdoing emerge

 

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