After Microsoft and Intel, EU regulator sights may fall on Google

May 13, 2009 by Sophie Estienne
A visitor walks past the logo of Internet search engine giant Google at a trade fair. After Microsoft and Intel, the next big US technology giant to find itself in the sights of EU competition regulators may be Google with its ubiquitous Internet search engine and online ad business.

After Microsoft and Intel, the next big US technology giant to find itself in the sights of EU competition regulators may be Google with its ubiquitous Internet search engine and online ad business.

That at least is one of the main arguments in Microsoft's defence against its latest EU antitrust charges, which accuse the software giant of illegally tying its Internet Explorer web browser to its .

After fining Intel a record 1.06 billion euros (1.45 billion dollars) on Wednesday for abusing its dominant market power, the European Commission is moving ahead with fresh legal action against Microsoft on Internet Explorer.

The thrust of Microsoft's defence is in effect that "if one company benefits from this case, it is Google," according to a source close to the matter.

Microsoft has indicated that what is at stake in the web browser case is the search engine market and the lucrative online advertising market, two central business lines for Google.

The commission wants Microsoft to include multiple web browsers pre-installed on Windows and not only its so that consumers can choose which one they want to use.

Microsoft's answer is that Google could negotiate with computer makers to get exclusive rights to have its Chrome browser made the default browser or GoogleSearch the default search engine.

"This case is not about Google," a spokesman for the Internet giant said. "It's about giving consumers more choice and real competition between web browsers which are the entry point to the Internet."

One Brussels-based expert said that it was "particularly interesting that Microsoft, after so many problems with European competition law, is (now) ready to use it to its advantage."

However, he stressed that the key question was not whether a company has a dominant market share but rather if it used it to squeeze out rivals unfairly.

"It's perfectly allowed to have a dominant position but it's forbidden to abuse it," the expert said, asking not to be named.

"I understand that they want to take a shot at a potential competitor," the expert said. "But you can't give up trying to fix one competition problem on the pretext that it would create another one somewhere else."

Despite Google's dominance, "it is tolerated now by authorities," noted Brussels-based lawyer Spyros Pappas.

"Competition decisions should take into account other dimensions" such as protection of consumers' personal data, he said.

The commission lost a chance when it gave its blessing in March 2008 to Google's takeover of Internet ad tracking giant DoubleClick despite concerns from privacy advocates and consumer groups.

Whether Brussels decides to go after Google or not, US competition authorities are taking a closer look at the company.

The announcement on Monday in Washington of US plans for more aggressive antitrust enforcement led to speculation that Google would be the first big target under the tighter policy.

"The recent developments in the marketplace should make it clear that we can no longer rely upon the marketplace alone to ensure that and consumers will be protected," the US Department of Justice antitrust chief Christine Varney said.

Earlier this month, acknowledged that it has been contacted by the US Federal Trade Commission regarding potential legal conflicts caused by chief executive Eric Schmidt and director Arthur Levinson being on the board of Apple, the iconic developer of the iPod MP3 player.

(c) 2009 AFP

Explore further: EU says Microsoft seeks hearing in antitrust case

Related Stories

EU says Microsoft seeks hearing in antitrust case

April 29, 2009

Microsoft is seeking a hearing from EU antitrust regulators in its defence against accusations of unfairly crushing rivals in the web browser market, the European Commission said Wednesday.

Google runs TV ads to promote Chrome browser

May 11, 2009

Google has floated its first US television advertisements, a campaign to promote its Web browser Chrome, which has captured just a tiny share of a market dominated by Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

Microsoft's browser sees notable decline in usage

January 4, 2009

Microsoft Corp.'s Internet browser lost a notable number of users during the last half of 2008, according to recently published data, a trend that underscores the growing competition in a market long dominated by the software ...

Google CEO doesn't see problem with his Apple role

May 7, 2009

(AP) -- Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt is taking a government inquiry into his role on Apple Inc.'s board in stride, expressing confidence that the probe won't find any evidence that the ties between the two companies ...

Google prime target for regulators

May 10, 2009

Google's unabashed success as an Internet search and advertising juggernaut has placed it in the crosshairs of regulators worried the firm will trample free market competition.

Microsoft, Yahoo! in search, ad talks

April 10, 2009

Microsoft and Yahoo! have held "early discussions" about possible Internet search and advertising partnerships, a leading Silicon Valley technology website reported on Friday.

Recommended for you

AI and 5G in focus at top mobile fair

February 24, 2018

Phone makers will seek to entice new buyers with better cameras and bigger screens at the world's biggest mobile fair starting Monday in Spain after a year of flat smartphone sales.

Google Assistant adds more languages in global push

February 23, 2018

Google said Friday its digital assistant software would be available in more than 30 languages by the end of the years as it steps up its artificial intelligence efforts against Amazon and others.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.