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When I was in law school, course materials repeatedly referred to "Google or Bing," as in, don't use them for legal research. It was a combo that was, literally, laughable. Bing? Almost no one used Bing back then.
And that's a problem, according to the European Union. With Google having a virtual lock down on the Internet search market -- it controls around 65 percent of U.S. searches, but over 90 percent of searches in Europe -- it has enormous power to control where Internet users end up. And it's been abusing that power to promote its own services, according to an antitrust complaint filed by the EU.
Go to Google and search for flights to Seattle. You're likely to get price comparisons powered by Google displayed well above actual search results. This means that you may never make it to competitor's sites, such as Kayak's or Priceline's. That's an anticompetitive practice, according to EU Antitrust Commissioner Margrethe Vestager.
The European Commission, the executive body of the EU, accuses Google of giving "systematic favourable treatment" to its own Google Shopping product by displaying it prominently on the screen. This can keep users from finding the most relevant responsive content and stifles innovation, the Commission claimed.
The charges come after five years of investigation and could lead to fines as large as $6 billion, or a tenth of Google's yearly revenue. They're the first antitrust charges levied against Google and could be the most important antitrust action since the U.S. Department of Justice and EU went after Microsoft for antitrust in the 2000s.
The Federal Trade Commission opened a similar investigation into Google, but ended up bringing no charges. An agency report which was later leaked, however, found anticompetitive behavior and urged stronger actions than the FTC pursued.
As the EU announced the charges, the Commission also opened a new investigation into Google's Android devices. That investigation will look at whether Google hindered the development and market access of rival mobile operating systems, applications and services.
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