The European Commission has opened an antitrust investigation into allegations that Google Inc. has abused a dominant position in online search, it said Tuesday.
Complaints from smaller Web businesses claim that Google downgraded their sites in its search results to weaken potential competitors for advertising.
The commission said it would also look into whether Google might have given its Web services “preferential placement” in search results.
“This initiation of proceedings does not imply that the commission has proof of any infringements,” the commission said in a statement. “It only signifies that the commission will conduct an in-depth investigation of the case as a matter of priority.”
Google said Tuesday it would work with the commission “to address any concerns.”
“We built Google for users, not websites, and the nature of ranking is that some websites will be unhappy with where they rank,” a Google spokesperson said. “Those sites have complained and even sued us over the years, but in all cases there were compelling reasons why their sites were ranked poorly by our algorithms.”
Specifically, the E.C. will focus on the four following areas:
1) Rankings: Google allegedly lowered the ranking of unpaid search results of competitors that specialize in services such as price comparisons. The firm has also allegedly given preferential placement of its own search services in order to shut out competitors.
2) Sponsored Advertising: Google allegedly lowered the ‘Quality Score’ for sponsored links of competing vertical search services. The Quality Score is one of the factors that determine the price paid to Google by advertisers.
3) Advertising Obligations: Google allegedly forced exclusivity obligations on advertising partners, preventing them from placing certain types of competing ads on their Web sites, as well as on computer and software vendors, with the aim of shutting out competing search tools.
4) Data Portability: Google allegedly restricted services from transporting advertising campaign data to competing online advertising platforms.
If Google is found in violation of European competition law, the commission has the power to fine it up to 10 percent of its annual revenue, which totaled more than $23 billion last year.