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Google Could Face Heavy Antitrust Fines In the EU 292

Posted by timothy
from the we-understand-you've-got-a-lot-of-money dept.
SquarePixel writes "Europe's competition watchdog is considering formal proceedings against Google over antitrust complaints about the way it promotes its own services in search results, potentially exposing the company to a fine of 10 percent of its global turnover. Google is accused of using its search service to direct users to its own services and to reduce the visibility of competing websites and services. If the Commission found Google guilty of breaking E.U. competition rules, it could restrict Google's business activities in Europe and fine the company up to 10 percent of its annual global revenue (US$37.9 billion last year)."
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Google Could Face Heavy Antitrust Fines In the EU

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  • EU are on crack (Score:2, Informative)

    by viperidaenz (2515578)
    Even if Google does what they suggest, Why is it illegal for a company to promote itself over others on the services it provides for free. If you don't like Google, don't use their services. It's not a requirement.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Read up on rules on monopolies. If you have a dominant position in one area and use that to gain an advantage in other areas, that's when you are in trouble. If no such rules were in place, the natural evolution would be that one company crushing all the others. Be thankful that that this is happening. It's good for you in the end.

      • Re:EU are on crack (Score:5, Insightful)

        by MightyMartian (840721) on Sunday September 23, 2012 @04:38PM (#41430757) Journal

        I'm not clear as to how Google is a monopoly. It does not control the physical or electronic structure of the Internet. Web searching certainly cannot be considered a natural monopoly. It can't stop competing web services.

        So how can Google maintain any kind of abusive monopoly.

        • Re:EU are on crack (Score:5, Informative)

          by Guspaz (556486) on Sunday September 23, 2012 @04:45PM (#41430825)

          They have over 80% of the global search marketshare. That's what makes them a monopoly. There's nothing illegal with being a monopoly, the question is if a company is abusing that monopoly or not.

          • by Bengie (1121981)
            They're no where near 80%
            • by Guspaz (556486)

              They're at 66.8% in the US, but much higher elsewhere. In Canada, for example, they're above 80% when you combine google.ca and google.com. I'm seeing 80% or more in the global stats I can find, but most of those are skewed one way or another, so it's really hard to get an accurate picture.

              Market shares can differ significantly even in countries as close as Canada and the US. AIM was, at least a few years ago, the most popular IM network in the US, but had virtually no presence outside the US. Even in Canad

        • Re:EU are on crack (Score:5, Informative)

          by Missing.Matter (1845576) on Sunday September 23, 2012 @04:53PM (#41430879)
          You don't even have to be a monopoly to run afowl of antitrust laws; you just have to be able to exert undue influence on market forces. Since Google has a search market share of 70%-80%, promoting their products in those searches has undue influence.
          • by nospam007 (722110) *

            "You don't even have to be a monopoly to run afowl of antitrust laws; you just have to be able to exert undue influence on market forces."

            "Market Forces
            Definition:
            Forces of demand and supply representing the aggregate influence of self-interested buyers and sellers on price and quantity of the goods and services offered in a market. In general, excess demand causes prices and quantity of supply to rise, and excess supply causes them to fall."

            A free service can have a market force? How does that work?

            • by khallow (566160)

              A free service can have a market force? How does that work?

              A free service with pricing power! *bobble bobble*

        • It's not maintaining. It just is.

          Not to mention the contracts they have (or on what they produce) to be the search box defaults: iOS, Android, Chrome, Firefox, Safari.

          Remember, Microsoft didn't manufacture their own computers, yet had a monopoly.

        • by poetmatt (793785)

          It's what the PR companies have said from day one. It's an ignorant and biased view and implies that somehow you don't have a choice other than google - which is a requirement of a monopoly.

          In other words, this article is about nothing and so is the speculation.

        • by waveclaw (43274)

          So how can Google maintain any kind of abusive monopoly.

          Easy: by being a $3.8 billion per year target for politicians.

          The only obvious crime committed here is being popular and making a lot of money.

          It is sleazy for a company to favor it's own wares on what a naive customer assumes is a fair market. But that is the nature of 'free' markets and naive customers. The only reason anybody assumes the vendor they are dealing with is free of bias is lack of truth, which is just part of the limited, imperfe

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by jader3rd (2222716)

          I'm not clear as to how Google is a monopoly. It does not control the physical or electronic structure of the Internet. Web searching certainly cannot be considered a natural monopoly. It can't stop competing web services.

          So how can Google maintain any kind of abusive monopoly.

          Google can become an abusive monopoly because of where the money comes from. If a competitor tries to enter the market (ad supported services), Google could tell its customers (companies advertising products) that if they work with the Google competitor, Google will stop doing business with them. That would prevent any competition for Google, which would result in EU citizens not having a free market of competing services.

          Oh, and you start out by asking about natural monopolies and then finish with abusive

        • by Tom (822)

          I'm not clear as to how Google is a monopoly.

          Because it has a de facto control of a particular market. If I am the only producer of X within 1000 miles, then I have a monopoly, even if I don't actively stop anyone from setting up their own X factory. Legally, a monopoly does not require 100% market share, but a "controlling" market share, so I would be a legal monopolist even if there's a few tiny X factories within 1000 miles, but when you go into a shop to buy some X, most of them only stock my product.

      • Read up on rules on monopolies. If you have a dominant position in one area and use that to gain an advantage in other areas, that's when you are in trouble. If no such rules were in place, the natural evolution would be that one company crushing all the others. Be thankful that that this is happening. It's good for you in the end.

        Fully agree. However, when does one thing (search) become two things (search, maps), in which the one is used to abuse the other? Based on the suggestions here, the only thing

      • by Bengie (1121981)
        Last I checked, Google wasn't even 50% of total searches. How can one have a monopoly without even being the majority?
    • Even if Google does what they suggest, Why is it illegal for a company to promote itself over others on the services it provides for free. If you don't like Google, don't use their services. It's not a requirement.

      Google makes money (a lot of money) from advertisement. So it's not really "free" in the sense that Google does something good for you.

      It would be another story if Google wasn't the dominating search engine. It's exactly like Microsofts browser story -- leveraging costumers into associated products. Google can push G+ to its users and draw them from Facebook, just because they have the best search engine. This leveraging is what is illegal (for a monopoly). If 2-3 companies are competing, it would be fine.

      • Re:EU are on crack (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Rob Y. (110975) on Sunday September 23, 2012 @04:45PM (#41430827)

        Except that nobody's forcing anybody to use Google. In fact, the real monopolist still forces every computer you buy to come with Windows and default you to Bing for searching. And they make it pretty tricky to change. I know, I know. When it works, it's pretty easy to change, but I've never actually seen anybody change the default search engine - even those that still use Google by typing www.google.com into the location bar. And I've seen cases where the search engine choice website hasn't worked at all.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          Except that nobody's forcing anybody to use Google.

          This is completely irrelevant. Whether you have monopoly influence because of a natural advantage (control the only source of something) or you've been granted it by a sovereign nation, or you simply outcompeted everyone else; what matters is what you do with the monopoly. With great power comes great responsibility. When you have this kind of power you can basically break capitalism, profiting from lack of innovation. This is bad for society, so we passed laws about what you can and can't do with that kind

          • by makomk (752139)

            It's entirely relevant, because I'm pretty sure that (as one of the main organisations pushing the EU to fine Google) Microsoft's actually relying on the fact that it's trivial to switch away from Google search in order to benefit from these antitrust actions. If the EU does place restrictions on Google, Bing will suddenly have better search results than Google by virtue of still being allowed to give relevant context-specific results for things like maps. I expect they have the advertising campaign all set

    • by MrDoh! (71235)
      Aye, this is all a bit odd to me. It'd be like a Ford car dealership getting in trouble because it's not selling Lada's on the forecourt as well? The competition is complaining that Google isn't showing their competing products? (and which competing products DO go up against Google)? Surely any complaints against Google would apply equally to Bing/Yahoo who also offer advertising/webemail/storage? Very, very odd move, reeks of dodgy dealings behind the scenes rather than actual problems here. Analogy time
    • Re:EU are on crack (Score:4, Insightful)

      by devleopard (317515) on Sunday September 23, 2012 @04:54PM (#41430881) Homepage

      Remind me again why Microsoft is required to show alternate browsers, when IE is free?

      (They've actually failed and the EU is back after them, but that's besides the point)

      Moreover, a majority of "search" boxes default to Google, as opposed to a customer making a choice. (iOS, Android, FF, Chrome, Safari)

      • Google pay Apple and Mozilla to be the search engine for iOS, FF and Safari. If Microsoft paid more, they could get Bing there instead. Android may default to Google, but carriers are free to change to their own services if they choose. Chrome is a bit of a different story though
      • by makomk (752139)

        Moreover, a majority of "search" boxes default to Google, as opposed to a customer making a choice.

        At least they allow consumers to make a choice. Microsoft's been paying various mobile phone providers to set search on the phones they sell to Bing and not allow users to change it, for instance. They're the only Android phones out there which don't allow you to change your search provider despite Google creating Android.

    • by beelsebob (529313)

      Because it's abuse of a monopoly... In typical law, the issue is not having a monopoly, it's using a monopoly in one area to achieve a monopoly in another area...

      Examples:
      Microsoft had an OS monopoly, and used it to achieve a web browser monopoly by bundling the browser with the OS, making it impossible to uninstall and making it repeatedly re-default itself.
      Google has a search monopoly, and are in the process of using it to achieve {a web browser monopoly by sticking chrome adverts on every page | a maps m

      • Web browser maybe, but sticking ads everywhere isn't the same as installing it everywhere. Maps is a part of their search product, so you know, you can search for physical locations. Next thing you'll be saying is Google is using their web search monopoly to push image searching [google.com], weather forecasting [google.com] and calculator services [google.com].
        • by beelsebob (529313)

          All that does is shows just how successful google is being in forcing their way into the maps monopoly. Their search product was originally just that, a search product... At that time, people would tend not to use anything other than multimap for their maps. Google by integrating maps into their search, leveraged their search monopoly to gain a maps monopoly. These days, you'll be hard pushed to find a single person who doesn't instantly type maps.google.com if you say "could you bring up a map of that",

    • by Tom (822)

      Why

      Your answer is right there in the summary: anti-trust. Do you need to have it spelled out what that means?

      for free

      No, it doesn't. The fact that you don't pay anything does not always mean it is for free. In this case, someone else pays. It is for free to you. It is not for free. There's a difference that matters.

      • If that's your definition of free, please name one man-made thing that is free.
        The dictionary says:

        provided without, or not subject to, a charge or payment: free parking; a free sample.

        Both examples are paid for be someone else. The local government or a company pays for the car park, the company providing the sample pays for its production - they essentially pay the factory on your behalf.

        • by Tom (822)

          If that's your definition of free, please name one man-made thing that is free.

          You can run semantics if you like, but that wasn't the point.

          Everyone considers Google and many other web services to be free, but they aren't, they are still a for-profit company and they are making shitloads of money on their search engine. That is why all the rules of commercial enterprises apply to them, including anti-trust rules.

          The GP argued the "for free" point as if that would change the laws and rules they need to follow. My point is that it doesn't, because they are a company, not a charity, and

  • by wisnoskij (1206448) on Sunday September 23, 2012 @04:38PM (#41430761) Homepage

    Bing does this as well, I do not think it is particularly fair to start fining people for doing something that has been going on and in the open since internet searches were first born.

    Now if they wanted to created some regulations to protect internet searches to make them fair, well that would be a good start.

    • by Missing.Matter (1845576) on Sunday September 23, 2012 @05:02PM (#41430945)

      Bing does this as well, I do not think it is particularly fair to start fining people for doing something that has been going on and in the open since internet searches were first born.

      Just as bundling a browser with an OS is something that has been going on since the internet was born, yet Microsoft must provide a ballot screen in the EU and Apple does not. Microsoft promoting its products in Bing results puts them in front of at best 20% of the market. Google gets their products in front of 80% of the market. One company has more influence that the other in this case, just as Microsoft has more influence than Apple in the OS market.

      • Yes but that ruling was unfair as well, actually far more so. Not only was it an accepted industry practise, but it was the best practice for computer users.
        Bundling a single software product for all important tasks, is simply the best way to distribute a OS.

        • You know, I actually agree with you 100%, but at least they're being consistent, which is I guess as much as we can ask.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      Bing does this as well, I do not think it is particularly fair to start fining people for doing something that has been going on and in the open since internet searches were first born.

      In the early days no one had monopoly influence on the market. Antitrust laws have been on the books since the 1800's without much change. If Google doesn't have lawyers and businessmen that understand them they should dissolve the company now as their incompetence is staggering. If Google did go ahead and leverage their influence in search, they knew what they were doing and deserve to be smacked down for it because they were breaking the law and hoping to lawyer their way out of it.

  • by Ian.Waring (591380) on Sunday September 23, 2012 @04:56PM (#41430895) Homepage
    In my experience, the only people who complain to the EU are competitors trying to fiddle with Googles business model. I think people who sponsor that sort of activity should attract fines of their own.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      > the only people who complain to the EU are competitors
      No shit, Sherlock. If you aren't directly affected by Google's practices, you wouldn't legally have any grounds to make a complaint.
      If Google wants to (legally) compete as e.g. a mapping service, it has to do so on a level playing field, not by using its dominant position in the search market.

      • by makomk (752139)

        They're competitors who don't want to compete on a level playing field. I've seen a whole bunch of these so-called vertical search engines, and Google delayed far too long in downranking them - not only were they useless, they'd got so good at gaming Google's search results that they were starting to make Google itself useless for many searches. I've no doubt they managed to make a bit of money by making the Google results useless and hoping people would click their ads in desperation, but it was a pretty a

    • by Tom (822)

      The people who suffer from something complain about it. Are you trying to say that this surprises you?

      The point is not, and never should be, about who complains, but about whether or not the complaint is justified. If you break into my house, it shouldn't matter if I or my neighbours or someone walking the dog notices and calls the cops, should it?

      Please stop the "if we just stopped doing anything, the magical invisible hand of the market would sort everything out" nonsense. Few theories in the history of m

  • by joh (27088) on Sunday September 23, 2012 @04:58PM (#41430927)

    I doubt very much though that the EU will/can do very much here.

    One part of the problem is that people are trusting Google more than almost any other company. Google often exercises restrain and good will and of course for most services doesn't charge anything (because its users are not its customers actually), so people are extremely forgiving.

    I'm not sure about what will grow out of Google. I wouldn't be surprised though if Google were the first iteration of a more or less lenient super-AI of the future. If any of you have read the Culture novels by Iain M. Banks: The first Minds probably looked very similar to Google. If *this* will be the ultimate outcome, I'd say fuck the EU and hail Google.

    Reality isn't a novel though...

  • But to me, this is akin to a restaurant being threatened with fines for not directing some of the customers to its competitors.
    The search engine industry should advertise like everyone else, or offer superior service.

  • Maybe Google should have simply posted up their own services as an Advertisement item in search. Instant First rank, no problem -- they could even have the department "pay" the rest of Google to do it (although I'm pretty sure they would have to be careful with accounting rules, taxes, and so forth).

    • In that case MS should be able to buy that advertisement space. If Google doesn't let them, then again it is a breach of EU rules.

  • This is getting old, the every couple days another story splashing the Evil Google name in the headlines with hardly any change from the previous round. There will be progress in the MS-EU-Google tussle over time but basically there's nothing to say until it's over and done with. And by then some of the wild accusations of exposure will magically have faded to something actually reasonable.

  • Isn't this kind of like asking the concierge for a dinner suggestion and being referred to a restaurant in the hotel rather than outside?
    If I ask someone who runs a landscaping company who I should get to mow my lawn ... I have a pretty good idea in advance what they are going to say.

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