Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Pressure Grows on E.U. to Act against Google

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Pressure Grows on E.U. to Act against Google

Article excerpt

A consumer group with representatives from 31 European countries is calling for a quick resolution of an inquiry into the company's search and advertising practices.

As E.U. antitrust investigators prepare final recommendations in a case against Google, a prominent consumer group is calling for tough sanctions, warning that the U.S. technology giant may be using its power to the disadvantage of Internet users.

The director general of the European Consumers' Organization, in a letter to Joaquin Almunia, the E.U. antitrust commissioner, said Google "may have abused its position in the search market to direct users to its own services and secondly to reduce the visibility of competing Web sites and services."

The organization includes consumer groups from 31 European countries.

Whether the public has been robbed of choice is likely to be one of the questions in the antitrust investigation, which was formally begun by Mr. Almunia on Nov. 30, 2010, and focused on the company's search and advertising policies.

Monique Goyens, the head of the consumers' organization, wrote the letter on March 19 and publicized it Monday. The organization said it expected investigators to make recommendations to Mr. Almunia in the coming days.

Mr. Almunia should use his "powers to sanction dominant companies who abuse their position to the detriment of consumer welfare," Ms. Goyens wrote.

The next stage for Mr. Almunia is to decide whether to send Google formal charges known as a statement of objections. Google would be given a chance to respond before any decision was taken to impose fines or orders given to modify its practices.

Mr. Almunia could also seek a settlement in which the company agreed to modify its practices without a fine or guilty finding, or drop the case entirely.

Such investigations can drag on for years, which may be why the consumer group and others have stepped up their pressure on Mr. Almunia.

A European antitrust case against Microsoft eventually resulted in a series of fines totaling more than $2 billion for the company - - but the process lasted about a decade. During that period, a number of competitors complained that they were losing out to Microsoft and warned that the European process was too slow. …

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