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Google gets extension in EU antitrust case

The search engine titan has been given more time to prove that it neither hurt its rivals nor European consumers by giving its own products favourable treatment. If it fails, it could face billions in fines.

The European Commission on Monday gave Internet giant Google more time to prove that it did not abuse its search engine dominance to gain an unfair advantage over the competition in a dozen EU countries.

"We have asked the European Commission for additional time to review the documents they've provided us. The Commission has extended our response deadline to August 17," Google spokesman Al Verney said on Monday.

The extension buys the US company an extra five weeks to make its case, after it had initially been given until July 7 to respond.

"The commission analyzed the reasons for the request and granted an extension allowing Google to fully exercise its rights of defence," Commission spokesman Ricardo Cardoso stated.

"We will carefully consider Google's response before taking a decision on how to proceed," Cardoso added.

Preferential treatment

The EU's executive body in April accused the US company of "systematically favouring" its own shopping services in its search results pages. By giving its own products preferential treatment, Google didn't just gain an unfair advantage at the expense of its rivals, the EU Competition Commission alleged, it also hurt consumers by suggesting products that weren't necessarily the cheapest or best.

The charges were the culmination of a five-year probe into the Internet behemoth's practices, which EU Digital Economy Commissioner Günter Oettinger said had turned up "very competent complaints" that Google was abusing its market position.

Setting a precedent

If Google fails to convince the Commission, it could face fines of up to 10 percent of its global turnover. The tech titan - whose products include everything from video-sharing site YouTube to cell phones - earned $17.3 billion (15.4 billion euros) in this year's first quarter alone.

However, what Google would effectively end up paying is anyone's guess. A charge sheet to the company seen by news agency Reuters states the antitrust authority would "set the fine at a level sufficient to ensure deterrence."

The document added that the penalty would be based on the profits Google's Adwords had made off its European users, gross turnover from its comparison shopping service in the 12 EU countries in question, as well as gross revenue from queries on Google search.

The Commission said Google's history of alleged abuse in Europe began in January 2008 with Britain and Germany, followed by France in October 2010, and Italy, the Netherlands and Spain in May 2011. Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Poland and Sweden joined the list in November 2013.

The European Comission has so far rejected concessions offered by the company in hopes to avoid the fine, although it often lets companies settle in these kinds of cases so as to avoid lengthy legal battles.

pad/uhe (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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