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EU Commish demands proof of Google's evil from rivals, customers

Chocolate Factory advertisers asked about competition-stifling contracts

It’s the anti-trust case that keeps on giving. The European Commission has sent out yet more questionnaires to Google's rivals to ask about the Chocolate Factory’s alleged anti-competitive behaviour.

As always, the Commish refused to confirm on the record any details of the ongoing case, but a source close to the investigation told El Reg that the new document contains about five pages of very detailed questions on areas not covered by the investigation to date.

In April, Competition Chief Margrethe Vestager finally sent an official charge sheet to Google after five years of to-ing and fro-ing by her predecessor.

Google was charged with favouring its own comparison shopping services in search. But the original complaints also included allegations of content scraping – that’s copying to you and me – exclusivity in its agreements with advertising partners, and undue restrictions on advertisers’ ability to use competing advertising platforms.

The former Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia, keen to reach a gentlemen’s agreement with the search monster, had accepted Google’s promises that it would stop “being evil” on the latter charges. However the Commission said Monday that it “has not dropped any of these other three concerns and our investigations are also ongoing”.

Lawyers familiar with the case said that it looks as though the Commission is planning to slap Google with more charges once the current search issue is wound up – Google managed to get an extension until the end of this month on its right to reply.

“I think that by the end, there was pretty much consensus that the proposed remedies [aka Google’s promises] were as ineffective as regards the other three concerns as they were with regard to search manipulation. The interesting question is what new concerns the Commission has taken up, if any,” said David Wood, legal counsel for ICOMP, an industry organisation that represents many Google competitors, including online publishers, online advertising agencies, Internet service and network providers.

“Almunia actually resolved nothing. No deal was ever reached, on anything. So all four issues raised by the Commission during Almunia's tenure remain on the table. I would not be surprised to see a Statement (or Statements) of Objections to be issued on these other issues,” added Thomas Vinje from Fairsearch, a group representing the complainants in the Google case. ®

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