EU Probes Google For Antitrust Issues

Europe's antitrust regulator, the European Commission, is investigating whether Google used its dominant position in search and online advertising to put competitors at a disadvantage. Google said it works hard to do the right thing and will work with the commission to address concerns.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Next, we'll report on two companies struggling to stay on top of their field. They operate in the constantly changing world of the Internet so almost by definition, they are constantly under pressure.

One of the companies is Google. The gigantic search-engine company faces a formal antitrust investigation in Europe. NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports.

YUKI NOGUCHI: Regulators have long been interested in whether Google is, in essence, too big and too powerful. But this is the first time a broad investigation has been launched into the company's business practices - not because the European Commission has evidence to prove something is amiss, but because it has gotten complaints from rivals and other websites about unfavorable treatment.

Harry First is a law professor at New York University. He says Google is trying hard to avoid the fate of one of its accusers.

Professor HARRY FIRST (New York University): There's a global worry, and that is that it does not want to be the next Microsoft.

NOGUCHI: Microsoft's own tussle with the European Commission over antitrust issues cost it about $2.5 billion in fines and penalties, and years of litigation.

Prof. FIRST: Google, I think, has tried to learn from that, and they've been very antitrust-aware. So I think they - they are naturally concerned they're a dominant firm and a very important player in technology, and they are sort of a natural next target.

NOGUCHI: But Google spokesman Adam Kovacevich says it has not used its market share to manipulate the market. For example, the company says it does not design its search engine to favor one website over another.

Mr. ADAM KOVACEVICH (Spokesman, Google): The nature of search results are that some websites are going to be ranked on top; some websites are going to be ranked further down, and they might be unhappy with their results. That's the nature of ranking.

NOGUCHI: Nor, Kovacevich says, is Google as secretive about how its technology works as people sometimes think.

Mr. KOVACEVICH: Sometimes people say that are systems are a black box, and I think we find that many of the people who say that haven't looked very hard for the box.

NOGUCHI: Neither the commission nor Google said how long they expect the investigation to take.

Yuki Noguchi, NPR News.

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