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Why The Big Smile, Mr. Ballmer? Has Google Been Slapped With an Antitrust Probe in Europe?

Published on February 24, 2010
by John Paczkowski

And there it is, Google’s European antitrust review.

The European Commission has opened an investigation into Google’s dominance of the search and search advertising markets in Europe at the behest of three complainants: French legal search engine ejustice.fr, U.K. price-comparison venture Foundem, and Ciao!, a product review and price-comparison site.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the latter two have ties to Microsoft. Ciao is a subsidiary of Google’s Redmond rival and Foundem is a member of Microsoft-funded organization ICOMP.

In any event, the three companies have all accused Google (GOOG) of undermining their business in some way, either by unfairly demoting their rankings in its search results or by saddling them with onerous terms and conditions. And the European Commission has taken their complaints seriously enough to look into them.

The inquiry is at an “early, fact-finding stage” and may not result in further action, but it has clearly got Google worried. It was the EC, after all, that ultimately beat Microsoft (MSFT) into submission, forcing the company to alter its business practices.

In a post to Google’s Public Policy Blog entitled “Committed to Competing Fairly,” Julia Holtz, the company’s senior competition counsel, denied the charges against Google, saying the company has done nothing wrong.

“Though each case raises slightly different issues, the question they ultimately pose is whether Google is doing anything to choke off competition or hurt our users and partners,” she wrote. “This is not the case. We always try to listen carefully if someone has a real concern and we work hard to put our users’ interests first and to compete fair and square in the market.”

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