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Google faces another antitrust complaint in Europe

Accused of abusing dominant search position

French company 1plusV has accused Google of stopping smaller competitors from generating advertising revenue by abusing its dominant position in the search market. The company said it made the allegations in a complaint filed with European Union antitrust authorities.

The European Commission confirmed it had received a fresh complaint against Google. However, the Commission said it would give Google time to react before deciding whether to move forward.

Google is already the subject of an antitrust investigation launched by the Commission last November, after three complainants accused it of demoting rival sites in search results and giving preference to its own services. The latest complainant, 1plusV, is the parent company of one of the original complainants, French search engine eJustice.fr.

The substance of the new complaint is very similar to that made last year. 1plusV says that Google repeatedly delisted Ejustice.fr pages on its search engine between 2007 and 2009. However, it claims it has evidence of a series of new abuses as well as additional proof of the abuses already highlighted last year.

The latest complaint comes just days after competitors were to return questionnaires pertaining to the original investigation. The Commission sent out questionnaires to advertisers, publishers, website owners and rival search engines in December, asking for their views on Google's business practices by February 11.

The forms have nearly 100 questions to determine whether Google's algorithm unfairly penalises rival companies. One of the questions asks: 'Has your company noticed sudden and significant changes in its ranking on search engines like Bing, Google or Yahoo? Have you noticed any sudden drops in the number of users sent to your services by Google that cannot be explained by changes on your website?'

With such a huge amount of information to sift through, the Commission is expected to take some months before reaching a conclusion. And it reiterates that it is still only investigating to determine if competition rules were broken.

Google is talking to the Commission to attempt to bring the investigation to a swift resolution. The regulators' investigation into Microsoft took more than 10 years to resolve and Google chief executive Eric Schmidt said recently that the company has no stomach for such a lengthy legal battle.

"We continue to work co-operatively with the European Commission, explaining many aspects of our business. We believe there is always room for improvement, so we are working to address any potential concerns," said Google spokesman Al Verney, referring to the new complaint.

Google sources said last year that its international rival, Microsoft, has a hand in two of the original complaints by Ciao and Foundem. Microsoft owns Ciao.

In the EU Google controls more than 80 percent of the online search market. The company already faces separate antitrust inquiries in Italy, Germany and France. The Commission can fine companies up to 10 percent of their global turnover for breaching EU rules.

See also: Google: Microsoft copies our search results


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