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European Union Says Google Case “Still Open”

November 5, 2015 - Written By David Steele

In April, the European Union (EU) laid out anti-competition charges against Google following complaints from more than a dozen businesses. The EU has accused Google, the world’s most popular Internet search engine, of favoring its own shopping service rather than delivering search results containing rivals’ deals. We have seen recent stories circulating the Internet as to if the European Union would settle the case or sanction Google for abusing its lead search engine position. And European Competition Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, has said that the EU are keeping their options open and has not taken a decision yet as she explained to reporters: “At this time it’s still open as to how it will end. It can take different routes, there is no decision yet on our side at least as to how it should end.”

The two core options available to the European Union are to fine Google up to €6.6 billion and order it to stop anti-competitive practices, or instead to give Google the opportunity to change how it presents search results without any sanction. Google has already stated that a fine would not be appropriate as it has already stated it is willing to change how the search engine works, and because of the unusual case details. Google stated that the fine would have no economic or legal basis: their search engine and service is free and there is “no trading relationship … between Google and its users.” The legal angle here is that because Google cannot take advantage of its customers, the EU cannot find an abuse of dominance, since this relies on a trading relationship. The EU has also been investigating Google for five years and was close to settling last year, but in September changed its mind and demanded more money from the search engine. At the same time, it has issued a 130-page document as a response: Google appears set to fight this case if it has to.

At this time, we do not expect a resolution in the case until 2016 at the earliest. With Google prepared to fight the issue, if it does not get a ruling it likes, it could challenge this in the European Union Court of Appeals, and this could take another five years to resolve. Matters are further confused because the technology and search engine market is rapidly changing: things are very different in 2015 as they were in 2010, and no doubt will be in 2020 should the case move to an appeal.