The European Commission’s investigation of Google’s alleged misconduct has done nothing but expand and intensify over the last six years. Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s Competition Commissioner appointed in the midst of the investigations, has spearheaded the ‘don’t back down’ attitude taken by the EU. She resisted her predecessors’ efforts to settle the case with the tech giant, and has instead added to the list of accusations in the anti-trust lawsuit.
The accusations against Google now include earlier claims that the company abused its market dominance with unfair business practices pertaining to its comparison shopping services and search advertisements, as well as more recent allegations that it engaged in predatory business practices by imposing unfair restrictions on Android device manufacturers and mobile network operators. Earlier this year, the European Commission sent its second and third Statement of Objections to Google formalizing its charges against the company and heightening the profile of the case. Google continues to deny the charges and is working to settle the disputes, while avoiding heavy penalties. In other words, the battle is very much alive and well.
It may surprise many readers to realize this case is now well into its sixth year, so we’ve created a timeline to track the major developments and key findings of the case.
February 24, 2010 – The European Commission confirms receipt of three antitrust complaints against Google. The complaints were authored by Foundem, Ciao, and eJustice. The Commission informs Google of the complaints and asks the company to address the allegations.
November 30, 2010 – The European Commission opens an antitrust investigation of Google, citing allegations that Google has “abused a dominant position in online search”. The Commission’s press release indicates the investigation will explore three claims:
- That Google lowered the rank of unpaid search results of competing services
- That Google lowered the “Quality Score” for sponsored links of competing vertical search engines
- That Google imposes exclusivity contracts on advertising partners
Google responds with a diplomatic statement indicating a desire to work with the Commission to settle the dispute.
March 2011 – Microsoft joins the party and files an antitrust complaint with the European Commission alleging a number of anti-competitive practices by Google. Google responds stating that it continues to work with the Commission on the case.
May 21 2012 – Joaquin Almunia, Vice President of the European Commission and responsible for competition policy, releases a statement indicating the initial findings of the investigation identify four areas in which Google’s business practices might be abuses of market dominance. These are:
- The way in which Google’s vertical search services are displayed within general search results as compared to services of competitors;
- The way Google may use and display third party content on its vertical search services;
- Exclusivity agreements for the delivery of Google search advertisements on other websites; and
- Restrictions in the portability of AdWords advertising campaigns.
Almunia stresses his desire and Google’s willingness to settle the issue and avoid “adversarial proceedings.” Almunia gives Google “a matter of weeks” to respond with a first round of proposals to address the concerns raised by the investigation.
July 2012 – Google presents European Commission with first proposals to address the concerns of the investigation. Negotiations ensue.
December 18, 2012 – Almunia meets with Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, and extends Google’s deadline for a detailed commitment to resolve the concerns to January 2013.
April 3, 2013 – Google provides European Commission with a proposed set of commitments that is says address the concerns raised by the investigation.
April 9, 2013 – Fairsearch, representing Microsoft, Expedia, and Nokia, and others files an antitrust complaint over Google’s Android Operating System alleging that Google’s practices “monopolize the mobile marketplace.”
April 25, 2013 – The European Commission cites Article 9 of the EU Antitrust Regulation and begins a one month market test of Google’s proposed commitments to address the antitrust concerns. During this period, anyone can send the Commission feedback on Google’s proposal.
May 2013 – European Commission receives overwhelmingly critical feedback of Google’s proposed commitments during the one month market test. TripAdvisor Inc. and Expedia Inc. join the complainants.
July 2013 – The commission informs Google that it will need to improve its commitments proposal in order to better address the Commission’s concerns.
October 2013 – Google submits revised proposal of commitments to European Commission.
October 2013 – European Commission asks for feedback on the revised proposal from all parties who responded to the first submission as well as all complainants. Comments are once again largely critical.
December 2013 – Almunia notifies Google that its revised proposal still fails to satisfy the concerns raised by the investigation and that time is running out to settle.
January 2014 – Google submits third round of proposed commitments to the Commission. Key improvements to the proposals include:
- Users will be informed by a label of the fact that Google’s own specialized search services are promoted.
- These services will be graphically separated from other search results, so the distinction with normal web search results will be clear.
- For relevant specialized search services, Google will display prominent links to three rival specialized search services in a format which is visually comparable to that of links to its own services. For instance, if the Google links have images, the rival links will have images as well, including on mobile devices.
Additionally, a monitoring trustee would oversee the implementation of the commitments.
February 5, 2014 – Almunia argues in favor of the proposed commitments, believing they adequately address the concerns of the commission.
February 2014 -The Commission outlines their support for the revised commitments to the complainants and requests their feedback prior to making a further decision.
May 2014 – Almunia receives intense criticism for his efforts to settle the case with Google from politicians and complainants. Google’s third round of proposed commitments is rejected.
September 2014 – While waiting for a fourth round of proposed commitments, Almunia’s time as Competition Commissioner comes to an end. The clock has run out for Almunia and Google to reach a settlement deal.
November 2014 – Margrethe Vestager becomes new EU Competition Commissioner. Indicates she will need time to review the details surrounding the Google case before announcing next steps.
February 2015 – Russia’s search giant Yandex files request with the Antimonopoly Regulator in Russia to investigate Google’s business practices with respect to the Android Operating System claiming that device manufacturers who wish to install Google Play are forced to install the entire suite of Google Apps and set Google as the default search engine.
April 2015 – Russia’s Yandex submits formal complaint with the European Commision against Google alleging antitrust policies with regards Android Operating System.
April 15, 2015 – After review of the Google case and preliminary investigation into the antitrust complaints over the Android Operating System, Vestager sends Google a Statement of Objections (SO) and opens a separate formal investigation of Android. The SO is to one of the four initial concerns raised by the Commission, Google’s comparison shopping service. In her statement, Vestager indicates that they will continue to investigate the remaining three concerns. Google has ten weeks to respond to the SO.
June 2015 – App maker Disconnect joins the small group of companies accusing Google of antitrust activities in EU member states.
October 2015 – Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service convicts Google of violating Russia’s Competition Laws. Gives Google until November 18 to reverse anti-competition policies with regards to the Android Operating System.
November 2015 – After victory in Russia, Yandex extends legal battle to EU hoping to force Google to unbundle services from devices using the Android Operating System in the region.
April 20, 2016 – European Commission sends Google a Statement of Objections on Android Operating System and applications. The SO claims that Google “abused its dominant position by imposing restrictions on Android device manufacturers and mobile network operators.” Google has 12 weeks to respond to the SO.
July 14, 2016 – European Commission sends Supplemental Statement of Objections to Google citing new evidence strengthening charges against the company’s comparison shopping service. At the same time, the Commission sends a third SO to Google claiming that the company’s policies “restricted third party websites’ ability to get search adverts from Google’s competitors.”