European Union Competition Watchdog Renews Threats To Break Up Google Into Smaller Companies

Facebook may be having a very bad week stateside and in the UK over its Cambridge Analytica data scandal, but over in the continental European Union officials are maintaining that fellow tech giant Google may ultimately need to be broken up, lest it swallow the internet whole.

Per the Telegraph, the EU's competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager - who led the charge to fine Google a record $4 billion last year for allegedly manipulating online shopping markets in a decision that is still being appealed - told them in an interview that EU officials still harbour "grave suspicions" about the search giant. She said that they are still considering whether breaking Google up on anti-trust grounds is the only option to prevent it from becoming too large to challenge without disrupting the economy.

"I think it important to keep that question open and on the agenda," Vestager said. "We are not there yet but it is important to keep an awakened eye."

Vestager also seemed concerned that Google is still abusing its market position, which is nearly 92 per cent of the entire search industry in the EU, to bully competitors out of business despite the fine. In recent interviews, she's said EU officials will be carefully monitoring its compliance reports and that other related investigations into the Play Store and its AdSense business are ongoing. The company's rivals have also accused Google of failing to make legally mandated changes following the 2017 fine.

"There is no ban on success in Europe," Vestager told the Telegraph. "You get to be dominant and you get a special responsibility that you don't destroy the already weakened competition... We have proven their dominance in search and we have found they have misused this dominance to promote themselves and diminish competitors."

European regulators have long been willing to take much more dramatic antitrust action against dominant companies than their US counterparts, who have largely let tech giants proceed without serious legal challenge.

As Reuters noted, Vestager said last year further cases against Google remained likely, and the European Commission is drafting regulation that would require "e-commerce sites, app stores and search engines to be more transparent in how they rank search results and why they delist some services." New EU proposals would also require tech companies to pay a three per cent tax on turnover "if they make money from user data or digital advertising in a country," per the Guardian, a challenge to the model today, where tech giants typically race to install headquarters in countries where they will be taxed the least.

Vestager told the Telegraph she was not targeting tech companies specifically, adding "I think the motives for illegal behaviour are the same for any kind of company. Money, fear, power — these motives have been the same across centuries."

[The Telegraph]

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