As we reported back on March 22nd, the European Commission is going full steam ahead on bringing charges against Google for unfair antitrust practices. The Wall Street Journal reported on April 1st that a ‘person familiar with the matter’ stated that the EU is preparing to move against the Mountain View behemoth in the next few weeks.
The Commission, the European Union’s antitrust authority, has asked companies that have filed complaints against Google for permission to publish previously confidential information. According to antitrust experts, such requests are a strong indication that formal charges are soon to follow. If true, this would be the Union’s biggest antitrust action since the Microsoft investigation started ten years ago, which resulted in 1.8 billion in fines.
The investigation is also delving into the possibility that Google has been ‘scraping’ content from competitors, along with restricting developers and advertisers unfairly. Google, naturally, denies that it is participating in any such anticompetitive practices. Kent Walker, Google’s general counsel, said last week while speaking in Berlin that there was a painfully long list of unsuccessful Google products in Europe, evidenced by Google Plus and Street View in Germany, showing that current competition laws were working as intended.
Margrethe Vestager, the European Union’s antitrust head, prefers the certainty of formal charges, rather than negotiated settlements in cases of competition malfeasance. The EU’s previous antitrust head, Jouaquin Almunia, tried reaching a settlement with Google on three separate occasions and failed each time.
The investigation seems to be moving quickly with the first requests for unredacted documents coming in February, requiring a response within a few days. More recently a company was contacted on March 26th and had just seven days to respond. So, pressure seems to be building for the EU to do something quickly and decisively.
If charges are filed, Google will have approximately three months to reply or propose a settlement. Or they could request a formal hearing before the Commission, after which the regulatory body would issue a decision, which then could be appealed in the Luxembourg courts. If Google lost the battle, it could be fined as much as 10% of annual revenue. Using last year’s numbers that would exceed $60 billion.
I won’t be surprised if we see some formal charges from the European Union against Google in the very near future. This story is becoming hotter by the day. Stay tuned.
Source: The Wall Street Journal
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