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Europe antitrust probe into Google

The top European antitrust regulator opened an investigation into Google today to examine allegations that the Internet giant has abused its dominance in online search. The move follows complaints by specialised searchrelated companies about “unfavourable treatment of their services in Google’s unpaid and sponsored search results,” the European Commission said in a statement.

The commission said that it was also looking into whether Google may have given its own services “preferential placement” in search results. In addition to its search engine, Google has a growing number of other online businesses, including mapping, translation, video and electronic commerce services, many of which, like the search engine, are supported by advertising.

The investigation goes beyond the scrutiny the US company so far has received at home. Authorities in the US have been examining Google’s acquisitions and actions for indications that its market power may be anti-competitive, but have not brought any formal proceedings.

Google already faces separate antitrust inquiries in Italy, Germany and France.

Google’s powerful position on the Internet has been a particular sore point in Europe, where the company controls more than 80 per cent of the online search market, compared with about 66 per cent in the US, according to ComScore, a research firm. In its statement, the European Commission said it would “conduct an in-depth investigation of the case as a matter of priority”, noting that it did not yet have “proof of infringements”. The commission had begun an infor
mal inquiry earlier this year.

In a statement, Google said it had strived to “do the right thing by our users and our industry”, such as “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. “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.

The European investigation will focus on the online marketplaces for advertising that have emerged in recent years. The commission said it would investigate whether Google had unfairly lowered the rankings of competing search services, such as those that offer price comparisons of consumer goods.

In particular, the commission said it would look into allegations that Google manipulated a so-called Quality Score that helps to determine how much advertisers pay Google to buy ads linked to a particular search keyword.

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