European Union Charges Google With Antitrust Violations

European Union Charges Google With Antitrust Violations

2:44pm Apr 16, 2015

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Europe is taking aim at Google. The European Union accuses the tech giant of abusing its power to stifle competition. Google has managed to avoid these kinds of charges in the U.S. Regulators in Europe have been investigating the company for nearly five years. Some in the U.S. see today's charges as European protectionism against American business. NPR's Laura Sydell reports.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: When you search for say, raincoats on Google, along with links and ads for big retailers like JCPenney or Walmart, there will usually be prominent sponsored links from Google Shopping. Retailers pay to be part of that listing which has ads, pictures and pricing. Margrethe Vestager, the EU Competition Commissioner, says this is unfair.


MARGRETHE VESTAGER: Google's favorable treatment of its comparison shopping service - you probably know it as Google Shopping - is an abuse of Google's dominant position in general search.

SYDELL: Vestager says the EU has also been hearing complaints about Google in other areas like travel. Google has its own travel service, and it appears prominently on top of the travel searches. For its part, Google says there's no evidence that it's harming competitors. In a blog post today, it noted, for example, that competing travel sites have 95 percent of the business. U.S. antitrust regulators have looked into these same issues and determined that there is no harm being done to consumers. But University of Pennsylvania Law Professor Christopher Yoo says Europe is different.

CHRISTOPHER YOO: A lot of conduct that has no demonstrated harm to consumers will be subject to suit in Europe just because a company is big.

SYDELL: And Google is even bigger in Europe than in the U.S. Less than 70 percent of U.S. searches are done on Google, and in Europe it's more than 90 percent. But there are suspicions among some experts that there's also an attempt to protect European businesses. Eric Goldman is a professor at Santa Clara University Law School.

ERIC GOLDMAN: There might be a little bit of tentative xenophobia as well. It's not a local hometown player so maybe we can go get them.

SYDELL: Go get Google and other American tech companies. Europe's officials are looking into low taxes paid by Apple in Ireland and Amazon in Luxembourg. Its privacy regulators are looking at the Facebook. But not everyone agrees that the suit against Google is part of a conspiracy against American tech companies. Nicholas Economides is an economics professor at NYU.

NICHOLAS ECONOMIDES: I don't think it's so out in the left-field that the EU is suing Google that we would say oh, yeah, for sure they're doing it because they're prejudice. I don't think it's such a case.

SYDELL: Economides says the biggest complaints against Google are coming from American companies, especially Microsoft, which was once itself a target of antitrust regulators in both Europe and the U.S. Economides says it's possible that U.S. regulators could still take action against Google. He says they're probably watching the European case very closely.

ECONOMIDES: When there is a suit, even if it happens in Europe, because of the cooperation between the U.S. government and the EU, there is information that comes up and is going to be shared with the United States.

SYDELL: If Google loses in Europe, it could face fines of over $6 billion. And right now, there's still a chance of more charges against Google in Europe. EU regulators also announced an investigation of Google's mobile operating system, Android. The officials are looking into whether Google requirements that phone makers place certain apps like YouTube on their devices may be anticompetitive. What this means is that we're likely to be hearing a lot more in coming months about Google in Europe. Laura Sydell, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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