posted by Thom Holwerda on Wed 24th Feb 2010 11:29 UTC
IconWell, this was pretty much inevitable. With Google having pretty much a monopoly in search, it's not surprising to see authorities putting the company under a microscope, and this is exactly what the European Commission is doing. The EC has launched a fact-finding antitrust probe into Google. However, looking at where the probe originates from, some might have a sense of "ah!". Update: more bad news for Google.

The inquiry launched by the European Commission is a preliminary one, and is in the fact-finding stage. This means that Google has not yet been accused of anything, and the outcome of the inquiry might as well be that absolutely nothing is wrong. Still, this is the first time the European antitrust authorities have launched an investigation into Google in this manner. "The Commission has not opened a formal investigation for the time being. As is usual when the Commission receives complaints, it informed Google earlier this month and asked the company to comment on the allegations," the EC said.

Julia Holtz, Senior Competition Counsel at Google, announced the inquiry on the Google Public Policy Blog, and in it, she also detailed where the antritrust complaints come from. Three companies are involved: ejustice.fr, a French legal search engine, Foundem.co.uk, a UK price comparison site, and Ciao!, also a price comparison site.

The interesting part here that will sure much speculation is that the last two mentioned both have ties to Microsoft. Ciao! is owned by Microsoft, and Foundem is a member of ICOMP, which is partly funded by Microsoft. Google is obviously keen to mention all this.

Foundem and ejustice.fr claim that Google "demoted" them in their search results, which obviously hurts both companies. Ciao! originally lodged their complaint at the German competition authorities, but this has now been transferred to Brussels. Ciao!'s complaints deal with the AdSense terms and conditions.

Google obviously denies any and all involvement. "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," Holtz writes, "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."

Whether Google indeed conducts its business fairly or not, it never hurts to have an investigation from time-to-time. If no problems are found - no harm done, but it keeps large companies on their toes. IF problems are found, well, then it's a good thing.

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