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E.U. Investigates Google For Anti-Competitive Abuses [Update: Google Responds]

Google EU

Google is alleged to have abused its position as king of searchengineland, and the European Union has just announced it's launching a large inquiry.

The source of the investigation is "unfavorable treatment" of other search companies' specialized search-related tech within Google's search engine algorithms and its paid-for search result placements, according to the European Commission. The core of the allegation is that where Google faces rivals in some niche search markets, it preferentially placed its own competing services more prominently in its search results.

Is the accusation plausible? Definitely. Google's not necessarily the friendliest company in the world (despite that cutesy "do no evil" political rhetoric), and it's come under legal fire many times in the past—most recently for its highly suspicious collection of user data, emails, passwords and other personal data "scraped" out of the ether by its fleet of Google Street View cars.

We have just one big question—and you can bet it's one in the minds of Google's executive team today: Will the E.U., if it ultimately rules against Google, levy the sorts of billion-dollar fines that the government has been using as anti-monopoly weapons against Intel and the like?

Update: Google has, very quickly, published a response to the news. There's no admission of guilt here, despite the lengthy nature of the official blog posting, but it starts by noting "given our success and the disruptive nature of our business, it's entirely understandable that we've caused unease among other companies and caught the attention of regulators." The post then goes on to state that all of Google's innovations have been for the end user, rather than for the benefit of other websites, and that Google prizes transparency. "The only constant is change" Google notes. Which is interesting: Is this a tacit hint that Google may have done what the E.U. accuses it of, and this is preparatory ground work for a "the nature of the business is complex" and "we did it all for the user" defense?

To read more news on this, and similar stuff, keep up with my updates by following me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.