As a company, Google’s name is so synonymous with searching that it is frequently used as a verb. In other areas the technology giant may not always have been so well-known. But that, say its detractors, has never been a problem for a firm that can, literally, put itself at the top of the list.
Rivals have long complained at Google’s ability to quash them by promoting its own products, such as travel and shopping.
In fact more than 30 companies from Europe and the United States, including travel websites Expedia and Trip Advisor, price-comparison sites Nextag and Foundem, mapping service Streetmap and software company Microsoft, have complained that Google is harming their businesses.
The Federal Trade Commission – America’s regulatory body – decided not to take any legal action following an antitrust investigation.
But according to Brussels sources, the European Commission is set to make a statement of objections – a list of charges that Google would have to answer to. Ultimately that could lead to a penalty of up to 10 per cent of Google’s worldwide revenues, which were $66bn (£45bn) in 2014.
The competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager, the Dane whose political career inspired the TV series Borgen, is expected to announce the move tomorrow. Gunther Oettinger, the EU’s digital commissioner, hinted as much in an interview with Die Welt Am Sonntag newspaper, saying Vestager would decide what steps to take “very soon” and said they would be “far-reaching”. European complainants say their expectations were also raised by a recent request from the commission for permission to publish portions of their complaints. Google denies using its position to disadvantage rivals and says it has co-operated fully with investigators.
Jacques Lafitte, founder of consultancy Avisa and plaintiff for French start-up 1plusV, said he hoped to see Vestager take action, especially as the commission has been investigating Google for abuse of dominant market position since 2010.
“From complaint to SO (statement of objections) there were around 20 months in the Microsoft case, and we have had to wait three times more in the Google case. Google’s president, lawyers and spin doctors have done a frightening but impressive delaying job. It is a lobbying machine second to none,” he told City A.M.
Meanwhile Tim Cowen, of Preiskel & Co, which represents British firm Streetmap, said he would welcome progress on the long-running case.
“Google tried to offer remedies but they were inadequate. There aren’t many avenues left.”
Streetmap is scheduled to take High Court action against Google later this year. As Google would have around three months to reply to charges from the Commission, plus time before any court hearing, a UK court decision could well precede an EU ruling. “A decision from the commission would be welcome, not just for Streetmap but for others that may have been harmed,” said Cowen. Google declined to comment.