Over the past year, European regulators have investigated the business practices of leading U.S. tech firms, including Amazon, Facebook, and Google. The European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, filed formal antitrust charges against Google, led by antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager. In a conversation with the Wall Street Journal, Vestager explained that the EU’s focus is squarely on Google, against whom she hopes to bring a slew of additional charges.
“The Google case is about misuse of a dominant position, to promote yourself in a neighboring market not on your merits but because you can,” Vestager told the WSJ. The charges already brought against Google by the European Commission accuse the company of featuring its own shopping pages more prominently than others in the site’s search results. Vestager noted that the shopping results case was “high priority” but would take time to iron out, due to the analysis and data comparison involved.
But as Vestager points out, this is just one way in which Google has come under scrutiny overseas. The EU is pursuing a number of other cases against the company, many of which deal with vastly different practices. “What they have in common is that the name Google appears in each one, but apart from that they are very different,” she said. “And therefore I do not think of it as one Google case but literally as different investigations and different cases.”
Vestager detailed some of the other charges that European antitrust officials are looking into, including how Google bundles its native apps on Android smartphones:
We have the ongoing investigations and they are quite different, both in their pre-history but also in how they present themselves in the marketplace. The one that I opened myself on Android, we also give high priority but it is a different creature than the Google case because people don’t think so much about the operating system on their phone. But those who produce phones or sell phones or develop applications, they are very preoccupied with the operating system. So we give that a high priority. Then we are trying to move forward the advertising investigation, the scraping, which is very much related to copyright issues. It’s very important to make sure we are not trying to do what is basically for copyright. And then we have the issues that are parallel to the shopping case.
While the e-commerce charges have some similarities to claims that Google gives preferential treatment to its own apps on Android, each case must be handled individually, Vestager says:
The shopping case may have similarities when we eventually look at maps and travel and a number of other related services, because the complaints sort of tell the same story. People feel or experience that they are either being demoted, or Google preferences its own services. But there is no such thing as you have done one, you’ve done them all. You can’t do that. On the other hand, if you look at the shopping case then there will be insights that will probably also be valid when it comes to other neighboring markets. But it’s a very, very fine balance, because we cannot do one case and then say the rest is the same. In a union of law and with due process, this cannot be the case.