A leaked report by U.S. Federal Trade Commission staff gives the European Commission political cover to rule against Google as it moves forward with its own antitrust inquiry, sources familiar with the process said.
The FTC report was mistakenly shared with the Wall Street Journal and revealed that FTC staffers found in 2012 that Google manipulated search results to favor its own services over those from competitors in a way that had caused "real harm to consumers and to innovation." The FTC eventually took no action against the company and closed the investigation.
In the European Union however, a similar investigation into Google's search practices is ongoing. Various people familiar with the process said that the FTC notes help take political pressure off Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who is responsible for making a ruling.
"I have the impression the Commissioner won't be much influenced by anything apart from her own assessment of the case," a source working for one of the complainants in the case said. "But it'll take political pressure off her, should she decide to return to formal proceedings against Google, which I'd assume she'd find helpful."
Some members of the European Parliament (MEPs) were outspoken on the matter. "This new element and evidence is crucial and could not come at better time," said MEP Ramon Tremosa in an email, adding that the Commission will have to take the FTC leak into account. Tremosa is from Spain and is a member of the ALDE party (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe).
The European Parliament wants the Commission to move on the case, which has been dragging on since 2010. A large majority of the Parliament backed a report in which it called on the Commission to find a solution as soon as possible, or risk losing its credibility on digital issues.
The FTC report also shows that the complaints made to the European Commission both by European and U.S. companies focus on competitive behavior of Google, rather than the place of origin of the company, said David Wood, legal counsel for ICOMP, an industry association representing Google opponents, including Microsoft. That's important in light of recent arguments painting the EU's move against Google and other U.S. tech companies, as protectionism. U.S. President Barack Obama for instance said in a recent interview with Re/Code that he thinks European scrutiny of U.S. tech companies like Google and Facebook is sometimes more commercially driven than anything else.
However, it is clear from the FTC leak that very serious concerns were raised about Google's competitive behavior on both sides of the Atlantic, Wood said. U.S.-based companies Amazon, TripAdvisor, Expedia and Yelp were some of the complaining companies in the U.S. case, the FTC report showed.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.