European Commission opens antitrust probe against Google | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 30.11.2010
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European Commission opens antitrust probe against Google

Brussels has opened up an inquiry examining the Californian company's dominant position in the EU. Meanwhile, the EU's justice commissioner renews calls for an increased and more unified data protection laws.

Google could faces fines up to 1.84 billion euros

Google could faces fines up to 1.84 billion euros

On Tuesday, the European Commission began an investigation into Google, examining the question of whether the Californian search giant has abused its overwhelming market share.

Earlier in the year, a number of European companies - including French legal search engine and the British site Foundem - filed complaints with the EU executive body, arguing that they were not allowed to advertise on Google.

"The Commission will investigate whether Google has abused a dominant market position in online search by allegedly lowering the ranking of unpaid search results of competing services which are specialized in providing users with specific online content such as price comparisons (so-called vertical search services) and by according preferential placement to the results of its own vertical search services in order to shut out competing services," wrote the Commission in a statement posted on its website.

Stiff fines possible

If the finding ultimately is against Google, the company could face fines of up to 10 percent of its revenue, which would be around $2.4 billion or 1.84 billion euros.

However, if precedent is any guide, Google's case and legal battles with the EU may drag on for years, similar to Brussels' antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft, which only ended last year.

In a statement provided to the Associated Press, the Silicon Valley company maintained that it had not done anything wrong.

"Since we started Google we have worked hard to do the right thing by our users and our industry - ensuring that ads are always clearly marked, making it easy for users and advertisers to take their data with them when they switch services, and investing heavily in open source projects," Google said in an emailed statement.

"But there's always going to be room for improvement, and so we'll be working with the commission to address any concerns," the company said.

New data protection proposals

In a related matter, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding told the European Data Protection and Privacy Conference in Brussels on Tuesday that the bloc's data protection system needed to be completely re-worked to give more power to an EU organization rather than allowing different countries to apply their own standards.

EU Justic Commissioner Viviane Reding called again for the right to be forgotten online

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding called again for "the right to be forgotten" online

"Take the example of Google Street View and the collection of snippets of personal information from unsecured WiFi networks," she said in the speech.

"This did not only prompt different responses by national data protection authorities but it also led the company to provide different remedies for individuals in different member states. This situation runs counter to both of the two main objectives of the existing Data Protection Directive: ensuring the protection of a fundamental right and ensuring the free flow of personal data within the single market."

Reding also re-iterated some policy goals that she had previously outlined this month, including the right of consumers "to be forgotten" online, and the "need to be well and clearly informed, in a transparent way, about how and by whom their data are collected."

Author: Cyrus Farivar (AP, dpa)
Editor: Sam Edmonds

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