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European Union Accuses Google Of Abusing Its Market Dominance


In Europe, Google is used for 90 percent of Internet searches. This morning, European regulators accused the search giant of abusing its market dominance. It is a major development in an antitrust case that's been brewing for nearly five years. NPR's Ari Shapiro joined us from London to talk about it. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: What exactly is Google accused of doing?

SHAPIRO: Well, the European Union has been looking into whether Google favors its own products in online searches because, remember, Google is much more than a search engine. It owns services that provide online shopping and maps and travel. And the allegation here is that when you do a Google search, you are less likely to get results from Google's competitors. Margrethe Vestager is the antitrust chief for the European Union, and here's part of what she said in her announcement this morning.


MARGRETHE VESTAGER: I'm concerned that Google has artificially boosted its presence in the comparison shopping markets with the result that consumers may not necessarily see what's most relevant for them.

MONTAGNE: And for Google, what does this mean legally?

SHAPIRO: Well, the step that the EU took today is called a statement of objections. It basically lays out the case against Google and gives the company 10 weeks to respond. Then after the EU gets the response, they'll decide how to proceed. It could be fines, could be injunctions forcing Google to change its contracts. This is a turnaround from the approach of the last few years, where European regulators were trying to reach a settlement with Google. At the same time, this morning, European officials announced they are extending their inquiry beyond just the search engine to Android, Google's operating system for smartphones, which is much more dominant in Europe than in the U.S.

MONTAGNE: And after this came out this morning, has Google responded?

SHAPIRO: Yeah, the company released a statement from Amit Singhal, who's senior vice president of Google Search. The statement says while Google may be the most used search engine, people can now find and access information in numerous different ways. And allegations of harm for consumers and competitors have proved to be wide of the mark. But also yesterday, when news of this started to leak out, Google sent around an internal memo that was first posted on a tech news site called Re/code. That memo calls the decision very disappointing news and says we have a strong case. It also lays out specific searches that Google did in Germany, France and the U.K. showing prominent search results for Amazon products, eBay products and other Google competitors, which sort of gives you a hint of the argument Google is going to make - that it doesn't, in fact, skew results towards its own products and services.

MONTAGNE: Well, you know, Ari, I'm wondering why this hasn't become a major issue here in the U.S. because Google's obviously very big.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, it is a strange difference. And one reason is that Google is far more dominant in Europe than it is in the U.S. It accounts for 9 out of 10 searches in Europe, as you mentioned. In the U.S., of course, it is the No. 1 search engine. But others, like Bing and Yahoo, take a much larger chunk of the market share on the American side than they do on the European side. I mean, the other thing is that the U.S. did have an antitrust investigation into Google a couple of years ago. It was conducted by the FTC, the Federal Trade Commission, and it was settled without a formal complaint. Though, as a result of the investigation, Google did agree to make some changes to the way it handles its search results in the States.

MONTAGNE: Ari, thanks.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Ari Shapiro. He was speaking to us from London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.