Google has been the subject of scrutiny in a number of EU Member States recently, raising the prospect of an EU-wide investigation at some point in the near future.

In August 2009, the Italian antitrust authorities raided Google’s offices in Milan, investigating a complaint from newspaper publishers, who contended that they could not opt out of Google News and still maintain their place in Google’s search results (see our previous briefing on this). Google has denied the accusations. Since then, both the French and German competition authorities have taken an interest in Google’s business practices.

Antitrust issues

In France, an expert report to the French government (backed by comments from President Sarkozy) has asked for the French competition authority to look into the competitive situation in the online advertising market and investigate whether Google has “abused its dominant position”. Google reportedly has a share of 80% of the online advertising market in France.

Meanwhile, in Germany, the competition authority is taking a closer look at Google’s activities, following complaints received from German newspaper and magazine publishers and a separate but related complaint from a Microsoft subsidiary, Ciao, and a Berlin-based online mapping company, Euro-Cities. Once again, the allegation is that Google is abusing its dominant position through its manipulation of search results and use of unauthorised material (from which it then generates advertising revenue).

What next?

So far, none of the complaints have led to charges against Google, and none of the national competition authorities have commented on these matters. However, as more cases commence, one would imagine that it would only be a matter of time before the interest of the Commission is aroused.