News / Economy

Rivals Smart After EU Plays it Safe in Google Case

A Google sign is seen at a Best Buy electronics store in Encinitas, California, Apr. 11, 2013.
A Google sign is seen at a Best Buy electronics store in Encinitas, California, Apr. 11, 2013.
Reuters
What's the best way to deal with a complex legal case that threatens to drag on for years while leaving unchecked a dominant player in an economically important market?

For EU antitrust chief Joaquin Almunia, the answer in the case of Google Inc. was clear. Not the long and winding road of formal charges and a potential fine for the world's most popular search engine, but the quicker route of a settlement.

Google formally submitted its concessions to the European Commission last week, aiming to end the 30-month long case. The regulators said they would "market test" the proposals soon, indicating they were content with the offer.

While the Commission, the EU's competition authority, and the U.S. company may be happy with the result, some of Google's rivals are not so convinced.

They see it as a missed opportunity by regulators to tackle what they regard as a dominant player determined to crush smaller rivals and thwart any chances they have to grow.

For his part, Almunia defends the approach he has taken, which was designed to secure a resolution of the case without having to prove guilt and adjudicate a fine.
In that way, consumers benefit more quickly from the resolution, rather than having to wait for years as in past EU cases against Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp.

"We ... prefer to conclude cases swiftly when this brings the most benefits to the markets. In certain industries - such as high-tech and fast-moving markets - it is important that competition is restored quickly and effectively," the EU commissioner said earlier this month.

Almunia had been concerned that Google may have broken the rules by promoting its services over those of rivals, copying competitors' travel and restaurant reviews without permission and restricting advertisers from moving to competing services.

In trying to settle the case, the EU competition commissioner has a point, given the length of earlier proceedings against Microsoft and Intel, said Nicolas Petit, law professor at the University of Liege in Belgium.

"The first Microsoft case took six years and even then the remedies were only applicable two years later. The Intel case took nine years from when the complaints were filed to the prohibition decision," he said.

Not clear cut

Given the complexity of the EU case and the fact that U.S. regulators found no wrongdoing in their own investigation of Google's core search business, Almunia is just being pragmatic, said Edmon Oude Elferink at law firm CMS Derks Star Busmann.

"From the legal and strategic point of view, it's the thing to do. If a case is not clear-cut, going for a hardline approach is risky. The risk of losing face is very serious," he said, referring to the Commission's settlement procedure. "Article 9 is a comfortable road. The Commission can claim that it has dealt with the case without running too many risks."

But for lobbying group and Google complainant ICOMP, which counts Microsoft and four other rivals among its members, such arguments hold little water.

"The complaints started to be made five years ago. Almunia should have issued a statement of objections two years ago," said ICOMP lawyer David Wood, referring to the documents spelling out the regulator's concerns.

"There is no reason to think why an Article 7 would not be more effective and quicker than an Article 9, even now." Article 7 decisions allow EU regulators to ban anti-competitive behavior and levy fines - as opposed to Article 9, under which companies can offer concessions to end an antitrust probe without any finding of wrongdoing.

Critics may still demand a more extensive investigation into Google and time may not be on Almunia's side.

"The Commissioner's mandate expires somewhere in the fall of 2014. Under an Article 7 procedure, he might no longer [be] ... in office to sign the prohibition decision," Petit said. "In short, to put the Google case on his hunt list, Almunia needed a settlement."

There are, however, drawbacks.

Some say Almunia's eagerness to wrap up the case could eventually undermine antitrust law enforcement and also leave companies in the dark.

"From an antitrust policy perspective, it creates legal uncertainty, as the legal principles ... are not clear, neither for the parties, not for third parties," said Anne Vallery, a partner at law firm VVGB in Brussels.

Still, there are more ways than one to go after technological companies suspected of flouting rules and blocking competition, said Albert Foer, head of the American Antitrust Institute think-tank.

"What is important to remember is that governments retain many tools (for example, procurement policies and privacy protection policies) with which they will be able to nudge, not only Google but the whole internet industry, in ways that appear to make sense even as the industry changes," Foer said.

"We need to be thinking about additional ways to maintain competition in the field of search. A long perspective is needed."

You May Like

Analyst: Joint-Arab Military Force Poses Perilous Challenge

Although international forces are desperately needed to counter the threat of the Islamic State group, analysts say conflicting alliances could escalate fighting More

Asia’s Middle Class Changes Demand for Wheat Grain Exporters

Changes in tastes and diets are boon for wheat exporters such as Australia and the United States More

S. African Comedian Taking Over Popular TV Show

Mixed-race comedian Trevor Noah, who is loved for his edgy jibes about race and language, is taking the helm from Jon Stewart at The Daily Show in US More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.9220
JPY
USD
119.88
GBP
USD
0.6757
CAD
USD
1.2640
INR
USD
62.626

Rates may not be current.