The European Commission [official website] on Tuesday announced a formal investigation [press release] into allegations that Google [corporate website; JURIST news archive] abused its dominant market position by manipulating search results to give its own services preferential placement. The investigation will be the first formal investigation by a major regulatory agency [Al Jazeera report] into the Internet search giant's business practices. The announcement follows complaints from three Europe-based search service providers that Google lowered the ranking of unpaid search results of their competing services and imposed exclusivity obligations on advertising partners with the goal of shutting out competition. The three companies that lodged complaints are UK-based price comparison site Foundem, French legal search engine ejustice.fr and Italian shopping site Ciao [websites], owned by Microsoft through its own search engine Bing, which has struggled to wrestle online market share [AP report] away from Google. In a statement [text], Google stressed:
We've always focused on putting the user first by providing the best possible answers as quickly as possible - and our product innovation and engineering talent have delivered results that users seem to like, in a world where the competition is only one click away. ... We built Google for users, not websites. ... Not every website can come out on top, or even appear on the first page of our results, so there will almost always be website owners who are unhappy about their rankings.Google pledged to "work closely with the Commission to answer their questions"
Currently, Google faces separate antitrust inquiries in Italy, Germany and France, in addition to the EU probe. Recently, Google has also faced criticism on privacy and copyright protection in several countries. Earlier this month, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) [official website] confirmed that it is investigating Google [JURIST report] to determine if it violated communications laws when its Street View vehicles inadvertently collected private user data, including passwords and URLs, over WiFi networks. Additionally, the UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) [official website] announced that the company committed a "significant breach" [JURIST report] of the country's Data Protection Act [text] through its Street View data collection. In October, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [official website] announced that it had ended an inquiry [JURIST report] into the company's internal policies and procedures that led to the breach. Also in October, Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart [official website] announced that the Street View breach violated [JURIST report] the country's Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act [text, PDF]. Investigations were also initiated in Australia, South Korea and Spain [JURIST reports]. Also this month, Google announced that it had settled [JURIST report] a class action lawsuit regarding privacy breaches related to its Google Buzz social networking program.