Between the ‘right to be forgotten’ and privacy concerns, it’s almost easy to forget that Google began 2014 reaching an agreement with the European Union over antitrust issues. However, the EU hasn’t forgotten, and EU competition chief Joaquín Almunia says that Google needs to improve its search practices, or else face formal antitrust charges.
In an interview on Sept. 24, Almunia said that Google has not done enough to honor the February deal between the two sides. While Google previously agreed to tweak its online search results in a way as to not abuse its dominance in the region, many senior European politicians and powerful publishing houses have continued to criticize the search giant, and they say Google has not held up its end of the bargain.
Speaking before European Parliament lawmakers, Almunia said that if Google failed to deliver changes, “the logical next step is to move to a statement of objections.” He also cited Microsoft’s $703.5 million fine for antitrust violations in 2007, saying, “Microsoft was investigated [for] 16 years, which is four times as much as the Google investigation has taken, and there are more problems with Google than there were with Microsoft.”
However, as noted by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Almunia did reject calls to force a breakup of the search giant in Europe. Responding to calls from lawmakers, Almunia said, “The day I [hear] that the railways will accept unbundling, electricity companies will accept unbundling, and we will discuss [unbundling] with telecom operators and others…let's discuss unbundling Google, but not before.”
Ultimately, however, the decision may not be Almunia’s to make. Former Danish economy minister Margrethe Vestager will succeed Almunia’s post in November, after the current Commission’s five year term ends. As quoted by the WSJ, Vestager said in an interview that the Google dilemma will be front and center among her obligations.
“We have to make sure that there is a high degree of security in relation to personal data—that there is a high degree of confidence from the people that the competition rules and regulations on market fairness are actually being enforced,” she said.