The writing is on the wall, says The Wall Street Journal: To all appearances, the European Union is preparing to sue Google. The EU has been accusing the California-based tech company of antitrust and anticompetitive practices since 2010, and Google and the previous EU antitrust chief tried and failed three times to come to an agreement. But the new antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager, has made it clear that she is not looking for a settlement from Google. As the The Wall Street Journal reports, Vestager wants a landmark case that will set precedent for how tech megacorporations operate in the EU.
Vestager has requested full, unredacted complaints from affected EU businesses and wants them within the week, which strongly indicates that formal antitrust charges are being prepared, antitrust experts told The Wall Street Journal. If the EU commission goes forward with a lawsuit, Google will likely face antitrust charges for altering search engine results to promote services in its interest (for example, listing Google Shopping sites higher than local businesses). Google has a staggering 90% dominance of all search in the EU, making it much more influential than it is in the U.S., where it currently holds 75% dominance, says Business Insider). Experts told The Wall Street Journal that it is easier to bring an antitrust lawsuit to the EU commission than to a U.S. court: Unlike in the U.S., where antitrust investigators must prove their case to a judge, the EU Commission acts as prosecutor, judge, and jury in competition cases.
Vestager, who took office in November 2014, isn’t playing around: She has repeatedly indicated a preference for formal court proceedings over settlements in order to set legal precedent, and said that settlements should not be sought at any price, says The Wall Street Journal. If convicted, Google could be forced to pay as much as 10% of its annual revenue, which amounted to $66 billion in 2014. This is in line the $1.8 billion penalty that Microsoft paid out in 2012 after losing an antitrust suit to the EU commission, which charged the software titan with bundling Internet Explorer to secure browser dominance.
If Google does end up losing, it will be a scare story for the American tech titans that have operated in the EU with relative impunity. Though yet to be formally charged, Facebook was recently officially accused of explicitly violating EU privacy laws by continuing to track users who had opted out. President Obama in February dismissed the EU’s antitrust claims in a Re/code interview, chalking them up to the EU playing aggressive politics in order to carve out space for its own businesses to flourish. In another sign that the EU has finally begun to play hardball with American tech companies, regulators have begun looking into Apple’s upcoming streaming music service launch, specifically whether Apple will use its music industry clout to steal talent from free streaming services (logically, from the king of free streaming, the Sweden-based Spotify).
[via The Wall Street Journal]