Twice in the past week, Google has come in contact with Europe’s rather different culture of competition and privacy, leaving Mountain View contemplating investigations and negotiations it would have preferred to avoid.
On Wednesday, European Union Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said he would look at anticompetition allegations from three companies, including Microsoft, that Google had unfairly demoted them in search engine results.
The reliable FT says that means trouble for Google.
The fact that the EU commissioner has commented on the case for the first time since the complaints were filed five months ago will do nothing to dampen growing speculation in Brussels legal circles that the commission is likely open a formal probe into the search business the next few months – probably after the summer break.
Google issued the usual genial talking points: that “we’re working with the commissioner,” and “very confident” the business operates within European competition law, etc.
Almunia was frank in his desire to bolster European competitors to Google.
“It is an established fact that Europe is good at networks and we have strong companies in that sector. But time after time we have failed to fill the pipes,” he said. “The biggest web services were all developed overseas. We cannot afford to continue to miss the boat on so many different parts of the digital value chain.”
In Europe, antitrust policy is part of larger competitiveness agenda. Not so in America.
I’ll talk about the second development, Google and France, in a separate item.