Sue Google, Brussels regulator urges rivals

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[Many of the reader comments express outrage over government interference. Interference in what? 'Free' markets? The problem is that Google has a near monopoly. "Over coming months, the [EU anti-trust] commission is expected to publish a redacted version of its report, shorn of commercially sensitive information, which could then be cited in civil claims." *RON*]

Simon Duke & Danny Fortson, The Sunday Times, 2 July 2017

Margrethe Vestager plans to release a redacted report to help businesses take action against Google EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/GETTY
Europe’s competition chief has urged companies that believe they have been hurt by Google’s “illegal behaviour” to sue for lost earnings.

Margrethe Vestager, the European Commission’s anti-trust tsar, said any business with a potential claim against the internet search giant should use a damning report she is about to publish to bolster its legal case.

Vestager hit Google with a €2.4bn (£2.1bn) fine on Tuesday for manipulating internet search results to favour its own price comparison shopping service, and crush rivals.

It is the first legal ruling globally to assert that Google has a dominant market position, and that it has abused this. Over coming months, the commission is expected to publish a redacted version of its report, shorn of commercially sensitive information, which could then be cited in civil claims.

“It is for everyone who feels they have been hurt by the illegal Google behaviour to take this report and use in court as part of their evidence,” Vestager told The Sunday Times. Commercial litigation “will have an influence” on how Google behaves in the future, she argued.

Her call to arms raises the heat in Europe’s drive to rein in Google and ensure that competition flourishes in the digital economy.

Many experts fear that the commission lacks sufficient legal clout to force the company into making fundamental changes to its search algorithms. Although a record sanction for a breach of anti-trust rules, last week’s fine equates to just 3% of Google’s $90bn annual turnover.

Lawyers said about 12 British price comparison websites may now be able to sue Google for damages. Hundreds of other firms across Europe may eventually also be able to sue, with the commission now looking at Google’s operations in every area of the digital economy.

“The decision that Google is dominant gives us another starting point to look at other verticals, be it images, maps and local [advertising]. These would be specific cases,” said Vestager. Formal investigations into Google’s Android mobile phone platform and its online advertising business are a “high priority”, she added.

News Corp, the owner of The Sunday Times, is one of dozens of companies that filed a complaint in the search case — along with Deutsche Telekom, online travel site Expedia, German publisher Axel Springer and Getty Images.

Last week Google said it “respectfully disagree(d) with the conclusions” of the EC’s investigation. “We will review the Commission’s decision in detail as we consider an appeal,” it said. Google has 90 days to overhaul its search engine to the commission’s satisfaction, or face a $12m a day fine.

Some industry figures believe Google should be broken up, with its search engine split from its shopping, maps, news and other services. “When Standard Oil was broken up, it had only 22% of the market,” said Brendan Eich, who created the JavaScript computing language and FireFox web browser. “How much of the European search market does Google control — 95%?”

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