Last week, we reported that there was growing sentiment in the European Union to bring antitrust action against Google for its so-called ‘unfair practices’. Yesterday, the Parliament passed a non-binding vote to break up the tech giant. Though the resolution does not carry any legal weight, since the European Parliament does not possess legislative initiative, the vote does highlight the growing resentment against American technological dominance in Europe.
The antitrust investigation of Google was originally started by Joaquin Almunia, former antitrust chief of the EU. As of November first, Mr. Almunia was succeeded by Margrethe Vestager. And, though Ms. Vestager is still getting up to speed, she will most likely make the final decision as to the need to bring formal charges against Google.
Much of the suspicion is fueled by the discovery last year that the German Chancellor’s cell phone had likely been tapped by American intelligence agencies and the Eric Snowden revelations about the NSA. While Google has no connection to these agencies, it only served to create more resentment towards American companies.
Most analysts do not expect this action to cause an actual breakup of the Mountain View giant in Europe, but it could result in changes to Google’s business practices and a possible large fine. Mario Mariniello of Bruegel, a research organization in Brussels said, “Breaking up Google would be unprecedented in all kinds of ways and seems hugely unlikely in absence of massive, proven consumer harm — and it’s very unclear to me whether the commission is going to find that harm.” Ricardo Cardoso, spokesman for Ms. Vestager, said after the parliamentary vote that she would not be swayed by the result. He added, “Antitrust should be “independent from politics” so that Europe’s “procedures are not put into question.”
Ms. Vestager has stated that she would take time before making a decision on the next steps in pursuing any antitrust case. She must also decide if a formal investigation of Android, Google’s mobile operating system is warranted, since Mr. Almunia had also begun a preliminary inquiry to ascertain whether Google uses the system to discriminate against other applications.
Historically, there is some precedent for these types of antitrust investigations, since both Microsoft and Intel have been hit with large fines in the recent past. Microsoft eventually paying $3 billion and Intel $1.37 billion. How all this will play out for Google is still very uncertain, but it is very obvious that the EU does not look favorably towards American companies having technological dominance in Europe.
Source: The New York Times