The E.U. has just opened an investigation into Google's possible monopoly in Europe, based on the claims of three companies who accuse Google of intentionally anticompetitive policies in its search and advertising. The E.U. is usually the site for this kind of debate, having also just forced Microsoft into offering a choice of browser with Windows rather than its own Internet Explorer. Interestingly, Microsoft is tangentially involved in this current Google investigation.
Two of the three companies involved in the claim, Foundem (a price-comparison site) and eJustice (a French search engine for legal inquiries), accuse Google of altering its supposedly impartial search results to give them less prominent ranking--they suspect the low pagerank is due to those two sites offering a service that competes with Google itself. Ciao Bing, the third complainant, hasn't immediately come forth with a reason for its participation (though it might have something to do with AdSense, according to this Google blog post). The interesting part? Ciao Bing is a subsidiary of, you guessed it, Microsoft. And even crazier, Foundem is part of "Internet pressure group" ICOMP, which is partially funded by Microsoft (though ICOMP has said they are "only interested in promoting transparency and fair competition on the Web").
Of course, this is just the announcement of an investigation; no guilt should be inferred from the news. Google has been investigated for antitrust violations before, here in the States, and always come out clean. The search giant claims that their search engine isn't perfect, due to the difficulty of indexing and ordering about a gazillion Web sites, but that there has been no intentional foul play. Here's an excerpt of their response:
Though each case raises slightly different issues, the question they ultimately pose is whether Google is doing anything to choke off competition or hurt our users and partners. This is not the case. We always try to listen carefully if someone has a real concern and we work hard to put our users' interests first and to compete fair and square in the market. We believe our business practices reflect those commitments.
You can read the rest of Google's response here. Essentially, they deny any intentional wrongdoing and make sure to note Microsoft's peculiar involvement in the suit--now it's up to the E.U. to see if they can dig up any illegal activity.
[Via The Telegraph]