Antitrust regulators for the European Union’s executive body have begun probing whether Google has abused its position in the areas of search and advertising.
The investigation is in response to allegations that Google has used its dominance to discriminate against where competing services appear in search results and that Google prevents some websites from using ads by Google search competitors.
In the preamble of its statement, the European Commission said:
“The European Commission has decided to open an antitrust investigation into allegations that Google Inc. has abused a dominant position in online search, in violation of European Union rules (Article 102 TFEU). The opening of formal proceedings follows complaints by search service providers about unfavourable treatment of their services in Google’s unpaid and sponsored search results coupled with an alleged preferential placement of Google’s own services. This initiation of proceedings does not imply that the Commission has proof of any infringements. It only signifies that the Commission will conduct an in-depth investigation of the case as a matter of priority.”
The commission will investigate three separate areas. The first is whether Google has manipulated its unpaid or “algorithmic” search results to penalize Google competitors or promote Google products.
Earlier this month, Benjamin Edelman, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, published some interesting data showing the so-called “hard coded bias” implicit in Google’s search engine.
This information, including Edelman’s comma test search tool, seems to run counter to many of Google’s public statements about the bias and preference of its own services.
The second part of the European Commission’s investigation will focus on whether Google forces exclusivity contracts with advertising partners. This is in response to allegations that Google bars the placement of ads from competing companies on a partner website.
The final part of the investigation concerns the portability restrictions of online advertising campaign data. In other words, does Google restrict the way that campaign data can be migrated to a competing platform?
As the commission notes, there is “no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anticompetitive conduct.”
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