The European Union is preparing to file a formal antitrust charge against Google, based on the premise that Google is abusing its dominance of Europe’s search market by promoting its own products ahead of the competition in the Google Shopping application. If found guilty, the potential fine is up to ten percent of Google’s turnover, which at $60 billion means the potential fine could run to $6 billion. However, Google will be fighting the case and it’s unlikely that it will be fined anything close to this amount. Even if Google were found guilty and levied a fine, the largest fine the EU has so far issues was to Intel, at 4.5% and $1.44 billion.
This statement of objections is the first step in a process that might lead to a court battle at some point: Google has ten weeks to respond, including requesting an oral hearing. In a memo to employees, Google explained it had a “very strong case” with “especially good arguments.” Part of the reason why Google is confident of a positive outcome is because the North American FTC has already investigated Google based on the same information the European Commission has and did not end up fining Google. The FTC said that it had “closely coordinated” with the parallel European investigation. We are to understand that this included regular telephone calls between the FTC and the European Commission. Now, these two bodies have slightly different remits of course and any investigation is likely to produce different results.
In a statement, Margrethe Vestager, the member of the European Commission issuing the statement of objection, said the Commission does not wish to interfere with Google’s design or search algorithm. Instead, the European Commission wishes for Google to put the relevant shopping results at the top of its search pages regardless of their origin, Google or not. Margrethe explained that she was hopeful there would be a “parallel between a fast-moving market and a fast-moving solution.” This is not the first time the European Commission has investigated Google; a recent three year investigation resulted in Google and the EU reaching a settlement that involved Google including three links to rival search services alongside its own. Plus, Google may simply pull out of countries: Spain passed a law that allowed publishers to charge Google every time it used one of their stories for services such as Google News, so Google simply pulled Google News from Spain. However, it appears that the European Commission have a relatively simple request.