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Even if Google can settle it faces numerous more antitrust probes on other topics in the EU and U.S.

On Monday, Jonathan Todd, spokesman for the European Commission (EC) -- the European Union's (EU) market regulatory watchdog -- revealed that Google Inc. (GOOG) had reached out to the EC and promised to make serious changes to address allegations made by EU antitrust regulators.

I. EU Receives Google's Last Ditch Pitch

Mr. Todd told Reuters in a statement:

The Commission received a proposal from Google and is assessing it.

Google's spokesperson, Al Verney added:

Our proposal to the European Commission addresses their four areas of concern. We continue to work with the Commission to settle this case.

For Google -- who makes the world's most use mobile operating system, search, and internet advertising platforms -- it's been a bewildering ride with European antitrust regulators.  The company has been probed and threatened by the EU for over three years now.
Google fortified
Google has been warding off antitrust accusations from Microsoft, who runs the smaller rival "bing" search service. [Image Source: Fast Company]

The company can largely thank Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) for its EU antitrust woes.  Microsoft has led two key coalitions -- The FairSearch Coalition, whose members also include Expedia Inc. (EXPE) and TripAdvisor Inc. (TRIP), and ICOMP, whose members also include Foundem, Hot-map, Streetmap, and NexTag -- both of which filed complaints about Google, claiming that Google boosts the ranks of its own services when consumers use its search engine.

While this might sound like smart business, Microsoft alleges it's illegal, and it could be right due to Google's dominant position in the search market and the way EU antitrust laws are structured.

Also, Google is accused of "scraping" or gathering results from its competitors’ services using automated scripts to improve the quality of its own results.  Google does not deny doing some scraping; pointing out that Microsoft does the same.  However, given that scraping is a gray area in current antitrust laws, it is possible that Google could be viewed as committing antitrust abuses when it scrapes smaller competitors.

web scraping
Google has also been accused of abusive scraping [Image Source: Google Images/unknown]

Part of the problem is that in the EU Google has traditionally held a much larger piece of the market.  In the EU Google has held as much as 86 percent of the search market; currently it has around an 80 percent market share, according to Reuters.  This is much higher than in the U.S., where its market share is currently around 67 percent, according to market research firm Comscore.

II. More Antitrust Woes Loom for Google

But whether or not Google has abused its dominant position to further its own services like Gmail, Google Docs, Google Flights, and Google Shopping, it's hard not to feel a bit of sympathy for the chaotic way in which antitrust punishments for Google have been handled in the EU.

After being given a "last chance to settle" in May 2012, Google in Feb. 2013 released a full response, which promised big changes as to how it was scraping and ranking search results.  The EC initially accepted that proposal.  But after Microsoft and others claimed that the punishments weren't severe enough, the EC went back on its approval of the Google settlement and demanded more flesh from Google.

EU books antitrust
 The EU "changed its mind" about Google's settlement offer. [Image Source: nrw.nl]

The EC is a pretty fearsome regulator.  It has nailed Microsoft Corp. (MSFTwith multiple fines totaling around $2.8B USD over Windows antitrust abuses, plus pounded Intel with a $1.45B USD fine for allegations of CPU price fixing.  Its policies have been so aggressive that Apple, Inc. (AAPL) opted to settle in the EU over e-book price fixing accusations, while fighting similar accusations in the U.S.

Google is clearly prepared for the worst.  It has set aside $500M USD to pay for potential antitrust fines in the EU.

To make matters worse for Google, the U.S. debate over Google's search engine tactics has yet again resurfaced.  After probing Google, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) agreed to a proposal where Google promised to make minor changes and would not face any fines.  The FTC even defended that decision against criticism by Microsoft and others who felt that the punishments were too light.  But recently the FTC has been rumored to be cooking up a fresh probe examining a new angle -- looking at whether Google's acquisition DoubleClick engaged in anticompetitive tactics in the search market.
Google Android
Google is also accused of using abusive tactics to promote its free Android operating system, which accounts for four out of every five smartphones and two out of every three tablets sold.

Google also faces allegation of abuse in the U.S. and EU of so-called "standards essential patents" (SEPs), which are supposed to be licensed under the "fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory" (FRAND) rules.  Last, but not least, Google also faces a privacy probe in the EU, in which EC regulators have demanded Google make changes by the end of this month.


Privacy is another major issue Google is being grilled on. [Image Source: Inquistr]

In short, even if Google manages to win over the EU with its settlement proposal and escape fines, it still faces at least two more major topics of antitrust investigation in the EU, U.S., and elsewhere.

Source: Reuters



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RE: If You Cant Beat Em
By sorry dog on 9/13/2013 9:14:16 PM , Rating: 2
So at what point is it stealing or not?

Maybe you think what is being "scraped" doesn't have much value... and it doesn't. But when it's done millions times a day even if the value of the information is 1/100 of cent it will certainly add up. This is definitely a subject area where the law is 20 years behind the times.


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