The European Union is right to take a closer look at Google
THIS year is turning into an annus horribilis for Google. First the search giant attracted almost universal opprobrium and a tonne of legal headaches when it accidentally recorded personal data from unprotected wireless networks in various countries. Then some much-hyped new services flopped, in particular Google Wave (see article). Now it faces a formal investigation by the European Union into allegations that it has broken antitrust rules by abusing its dominant position in the online-search business to stifle competition.
The European Commission, which announced the investigation on November 30th, says it will look into several issues. One is whether Google has manipulated the algorithms that underpin its search engine in order to penalise links to competitors in search rankings. Another is whether it has tried to impose agreements on websites that prevent them from running ads that compete with those delivered by Google.
News of the investigation predictably sparked complaints in America that Europe was once again out to bash a wildly successful American firm. Yet such gripes overlook the fact that Ciao, one of several companies that have complained to the EU about Google’s behaviour, is owned by America’s Microsoft, which also has links to another complainant. They also ignore the fact that the gravity of the allegations merits a close look by regulators.
Google is confident that the investigation will conclude it has done nothing wrong. It acknowledges that an element of judgment is involved in deciding what results its search engine should prioritise; without this, the information that it serves up would be less relevant to users and riddled with spam. But it insists that it has never tinkered with the results of searches to give its businesses an unfair advantage. And it says that the notion that it has a dominant market position in European markets is wrong, as the.