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2/24/2010
04:41 PM
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Google Faces European Antitrust Scrutiny

The European Commission says it is looking into three separate complaints about Google.

The European Commission on Wednesday confirmed that has received three complaints about Google's business practices from three Internet companies and that it has asked Google to comment on those complaints.

The Commission said that it has not opened a formal antitrust investigation at the moment.

Google is already dealing with the unexpected conviction of three of its executives in Italy for privacy law violations, unprecedented push-back against its proposed Book Search settlement, the challenge of securing permission to operate in China without censorship, and lingering worries about antitrust enforcement in the U.S.

In what can be seen as a revival of its competition and openness road show from last year, Google on Wednesday took the opportunity to explain the complaints and assert that its business practices are consistent with legal requirements.

The complaints, Google's senior competition counsel Julia Holtz said in a blog post, come from Foundem, a U.K.-based price comparison Web site that belongs to an e-commerce group that's partially funded by Microsoft, a French legal search engine called ejustice.fr, and Microsoft's Ciao! from Bing.

Holtz's mention of Microsoft in connection with two of the three complaints raises the question about the extent to which these complaints may be motivated by competition rather than legitimate grievances. When Google is criticized by a person or organization affiliated with Microsoft in some way, Google spokespeople often point out the relationship.

Google and Microsoft have each put antitrust enforcers on the trail of the other and continue to do so.

At the same time, the complaints touch on a problem of concern to all sites that depend on Google for traffic and revenue: where sites rank in Google search results lists. When Web sites believe that Google's search algorithm isn't treating them fairly, they complain. Google says it feels their pain.

"Though each case raises slightly different issues, the question they ultimately pose is whether Google is doing anything to choke off competition or hurt our users and partners," says Holtz. "This is not the case. We always try to listen carefully if someone has a real concern and we work hard to put our users' interests first and to compete fair and square in the market. We believe our business practices reflect those commitments."

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