The European commission has launched a formal investigation into Google after several search service providers complained that the company had abused its dominant position. The college said it would also look into allegations that Google has implemented a series of policies to shut out competing search tools.
As the S&D group's spokesperson for consumer protection and the internal market, I appreciate the commission's approach on two counts. First, Google's biased results harm both EU consumers and innovators.
Second, the commission's formal investigations are part of the bigger picture of the increasing scrutiny under which the US company business practices in the EU have been placed.
Another example of this is the recent case that was submitted to the European court of justice (ECJ) and which opposed Google to Spain's data protection authority. The ECJ placed particular emphasis on the right to be forgotten and therefore strengthened data protection rights vis-à-vis the economic interest of the operator of the search engine.
The underlying antitrust problems which the commission has investigated and deemed an abuse of Google's dominant position in the market can be summed up as follows.
The company is giving its own services an advantage other sites cannot match. For example, when a user searches for products for possible purchase, Google presents the user with Google product search links front-and-centre, a premium placement no other product search service can obtain.
Moreover, Google product search shows prices and images, where competitors get just text links. Currently, anyone who only wants Google search is forced to receive Google's other services too. The S&D group demands that the company split up these services.
Critics of the commission's approach have praised the way Google streamlines its services, and have expressed doubts over whether consumers are able to process a wider range of choices. This argument fundamentally misses the point.
While it is certainly comfortable to have a single password to access all kinds of personalised services, in the long-run, consumers suffer when innovators are unable to launch new businesses for fear of Google blocking their opportunities.
Who could sensibly launch a video sharing site, knowing that the US giant overwhelmingly sends video-related traffic to YouTube? The same is true for Google maps.
The formal antitrust investigation must also tackle the issue of Google's mobile Android platform, which also offers preferred placement for Google search.
Even on non-Google mobile platforms, the company serves 95 per cent of searches. One reason for this position is the so-called 'sweetheart deal' between Apple and Google regarding iPhone search traffic.
This has been the status quo, but the European commission's firm stand on Google might change the situation for innovators and consumers. Parliament - and more specifically the S&D group - continues to inspire and support further actions by antitrust regulators.