European antitrust authorities are preparing to issue search giant Google with a ’statement of objections’, reportedly 400 pages in length, detailing objections and accusations of “multifaceted abuse” of its search dominance.
The European Commission opened a formal investigation into allegations that the search giant abused its position as the leader of the online search market, by unlawfully favouring its own services over that of rival companies.
Should Google be found to be flouting European antitrust laws, it could be fined up to 10 percent of its annual turnover – thought to be in the region of $3 billion (€2.24 bn).
Such formal proceedings followed complaints made by other search engines, including Microsoft-owned search engine Ciao!, along with Foundem, and eJustice. An array of other companies followed shortly after, accusing Google of ‘cooking’ its search results to favour its own products and services.
The Commission is also investigating whether Google lowered the “Quality Score” for sponsored links of rival firms and competing services.
The ’statement of objections’ is a formal document that will lay out the results of the investigation, but more often than not is not disclosed to the public. Google will have two months to respond.
The company will have two options: it could settle, or it could proceed in battling the case, and face the hefty fine.
The Financial Times reports sources ‘close to the case’ that the supposed 400-page document will land on chief executive Larry Page’s desk early next year.
Microsoft was in a similar position only a few years ago regarding the outcome of its European antitrust case, where the company was forced to serve Windows users in Europe were with a hotfix to force a ‘browser ballot’ screen.
Though Microsoft settled the case, and therefore avoided the 10 percent annual turnover fine, Google may not be able to get off so lightly, it is believed.
It is thought that Google chairman Eric Schmidt, who recently had to face the U.S. Senate, after the FTC opened its own investigation into whether the search giant ‘cooked’ up search results, will be in Brussels next week. Schmidt is expected to speak to regulators to smooth over any possible bumps in the road in its acquisition of Motorola Mobility.
Seeing as Europe began its investigation before the U.S. authorities did, there could be a case precedence set, whereby the U.S. antitrust authorities seek the European Commission’s results and follows suit.
Whether or not it does, the outcome will certainly add impact to the parallel U.S. result; even though the two cases are somewhat different, in that the U.S. investigation also encompasses mobile-based search results, where the European investigation does not.
European regulators said it would give Google a provisional answer by January 10th, next month.
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