European Version of FTC Accuses Google of Abusing Its Dominant Search Results

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Google and its very expensive Washington lobbying efforts may have wiggled away from the Federal Trade Commission's anti-trust investigation without major penalties a week ago, but that doesn't mean the Europeans are going to take it easy on the search giant. The European Commission has not yet finished its parallel anti-trust investigation, but the EU regulator's Competition Commissioner, Joaqiun Almunia, has now said it will force Google to change the way its search results show up in Europe, report The Financial Times's Alex Barker and Richard Waters — a centerpiece of both investigations that the FTC didn't address at all.

"We are still investigating, but my conviction is [Google] are diverting traffic," Almunia said, referencing the charge that Google's search algorithm points to its own products over the competition in fields like travel and local reviews. Those findings suggest that a link to Google+ or Chrome might show up higher, even if it doesn't have the most relevance. "They are monetising this kind of business, the strong position they have in the general search market and this is not only a dominant position, I think – I fear – there is an abuse of this dominant position," he added.

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Before those strong remarks from across the pond, the FTC closed its investigation without condemning the search incongruities, which were long thought to be the centerpiece of the anti-trust complaints. While Google changed some of its other practices to appease critics, it did nothing about this supposed favoring of results. When Europe makes its final ruling, that's very unlikely to be the case. Waters and Barker suggest that Google might have to change the way it displays results from Google products — perhaps highlighting them in a different color — as a part of a government-mandated solution.

It looks like all that pleading to Europe from Google's rivals won't go to waste, then. Following the FTC's weak ruling, Microsoft and all the Google competitors that make up the Fair Search group put out very aggressive (and borderline desperate) statements pushing the European cause. Almunia, the EU commissioner, has had even harsher things to say about Google throughout the investigation, but the commission has pulled back on some of its claims. 

It remains unclear when the European Commission will rule — the commission has given Google a January 2013 deadline to write down a "detailed commitment text" detailing how it plans to amend its practices in an attempt to avoid charges and reach a deal. But if that is "unsatisfactory" Almunia said he would be "obliged" to charge the company with anti-trust violations. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.