There are many things I admire about Europe these days. Near the top of my list is the so-called right to be forgotten. And then there’s the European antitrust actions against Internet giant, Google.
The right to be forgotten allows people to request the removal of search engine links from their name to information that is inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant, or excessive. Removal is not automatically granted; there needs to be a balance between privacy and the public’s right to know. Google has demonstrated it can strike that balance and its executives should be ashamed they don’t offer U.S. users the same ability to protect privacy.
On the antitrust front after a five-year investigation, the European Commission filed a formal statement of objections against Google alleging that it unfairly favors results from its own comparison shopping engine over those of competitors. And, on the day that Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager filed the formal charge against Google, she also announced that the Commission was formally opening a separate antitrust investigation into Google's conduct regarding the mobile operating system Android.
That probe is supposed to focus on whether Google has entered into anti-competitive agreements or abused a possible dominant position in the field of operating systems, applications and services for smart mobile devices.
Consumer Watchdog has advocated since 2010 on both sides of the Atlantic for regulators to take antitrust action against Google. Indeed, our most recent letter to the Commission was April 13, two days before Vestager announced the statement of objections.
I won’t claim our letter tipped the balance — though it certainly didn’t hurt. What was interesting and quite pleasing was the polite European response to Consumer Watchdog’s letter. Nicholas Banasevic, head of the Antitrust - IT, Internet and Consumer Electronics Unit dropped me an email last week:
Commissioner Vestager asked me to thank you for your letter of 13 April 2015 and reply on her behalf.
As announced by Commissioner Vestager on 15 April 2015, the Commission has sent a Statement of Objections to Google outlining the Commission's preliminary view that the company is abusing its dominant position in the markets for general internet search services in the European Economic Area (EEA) by systematically favouring its own comparison shopping product in its general search results pages.
The Commission also continues its ongoing formal investigation under EU antitrust rules of other aspects of Google's behaviour in the EEA, including the favourable treatment by Google in its general search results of other specialised search services, and concerns with regard to copying of rivals’ web content, advertising exclusivity and undue restrictions on advertisers.
You can find all the publicly available information on the investigation at the following link: http://ec.europa.eu/competition/elojade/isef/case_details.cfm?proc_code=1_39740.
Like I said, there is a lot to like about Europe these days.