In a press release issued on 15 April 2015, the European Commission addressed the following issues regarding the Google case:
- first, the Commission announced that it sent a Statement of Objections ("SO") to Google for an alleged abuse of a dominant position in the markets for general internet search services in the EEA by way of systematically favouring its own comparison shopping product in its general search results on the web;
- second, the Commission announced that it formally opened an investigation relating to the mobile operating system Android to determine whether Google has entered into anti-competitive agreements or abused a dominant position in the area of operating systems, applications and services for smart mobile devices; and
- third, the Commission announced that it continues to investigate other Google practices, including the favourable treatment by Google of other specialised search services in its general search results, the copying of rivals' web content, advertising exclusivity and "undue restrictions" on advertisers.
The Commission initially launched an antitrust investigation into four potential abuses by Google in November 2010. In May 2012, the Commission invited Google to submit remedies to address its concerns (see VBB on Competition Law, Volume 2012, No. 5, available at www.vbb.com). As a result, during 2013 and 2014, Google submitted several commitment proposals to address the Commission's concerns (see VBB on Competition Law, Volume 2013, No. 4, available at www.vbb.com). Interestingly, in February 2014, following improved commitments proposed by Google, then Competition Commissioner Almunia announced that such commitments were indeed capable of addressing the Commission's concerns and it was therefore moving towards a decision based on these commitments (see VBB on Competition Law, Volume 2014, No. 2, available at www.vbb.com). In response to vocal industry criticism, however, the Commission ultimately did not conclude that those commitments were sufficient.
In a fact sheet published on the same date, the Commission provided further information on its SO, stating that it has preliminarily concluded that Google had systematically given favourable treatment to its own comparison shopping product ("Google Shopping") in its general search results pages. By way of example, Google allegedly shows Google Shopping more predominantly on the screen, and does not apply to it the system of penalties that Google applies to other competing products, which can have the effect of lowering the rank in which those products appear in Google's search result pages. The Commission noted that Google's first comparison shopping site, Froogle, did not benefit from the same favourable treatment and performed poorly, suggesting that the higher rate of growth for Google Shopping is the result of favourable treatment.
Google has apparently been given an initial deadline of 10 weeks to reply to the SO and request a hearing.
In a separate fact sheet issued on the same date regarding the opening of proceedings against Android, the Commission explained that it intends to investigate the following three allegations:
- whether Google has hindered the development and market access of rival mobile applications or services by requiring or incentivising smartphone and tablet manufacturers to exclusively pre-install Google's own applications or services;
- whether Google has prevented smartphone and tablet manufacturers who wish to pre-install Google's own applications or services from developing and marketing, on other devices, modified and potentially competing versions of Android; and
- whether Google has hindered the development and market access of rival applications and services by tying or bundling several of its applications and services together.
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