Image by Horia Varlan via Flickr
by Frank Reed
All the backroom rumblings and rumors that some day Google would be called to the antitrust mat may now be out in the open thanks to the European Union. Based on the grumblings of three companies, one of which is owned by Microsoft, the European Commission is opening an investigation. For one of the companies, Foundem, this is just another chapter in what seems to be a cheap publicity grab. For another, the Microsoft-owned Ciao, it could be a way for one of Google’s biggest competitors to put a fly in the ointment for the search giant.
An article in the Telegraph tells the story of this action by the regulatory-crazy EU:
The investigation comes under the Lisbon Treaty’s “abuse of dominant position” powers and is the first time that Google has been targeted by the European Union.
Telegraph.co.uk can reveal that the Commission has written to Google with a series of questions over how its search functions operate and also questioned the way it sells advertising. It acted after complaints from the UK search site Foundem, a price comparison site, Ciao, an online shopping site owned by Microsoft, and ejustice.fr, a French site which details legal cases and solicitor services.
If this sounds fishy, then I suspect that you are paying attention. Add to this equation that the main complainer, Foundem, is a part of the partially Microsoft-funded ICOMP which is described as an “Internet pressure group,” and the pieces fit nicely together. To me, this looks like a veiled effort by Microsoft to start the antitrust and monopoly wheels turning that would eventually get momentum in the states.
While this sounds very “conspiracy theory-ish,” I don’t think it’s much of a stretch at all. Microsoft knows just how difficult and business-altering the process is to prove your innocence of antitrust and monopoly claims. What would be better than to distract the search giant, who has close to 70% market share in the US and 90% in the UK? Maybe they will stub their toe just enough to create some momentum for the official unveiling of the Bing-Yahoo! search deal, which should be rolled out into the market over the course of this year.
Whatever the reason, this sounds like Google could be facing some regulatory heat in Europe for some time and considering the political climate here in the states there could be bad news to follow for Google sooner rather than later.