Google criticizes EU charges as 'wide of the mark'
BRUSSELS - Agence France-Presse
AFP PhotoGoogle dismissed European Union charges that it abused its dominant position as Europe's top search engine, downplaying its role as gatekeeper of the Internet.
"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," the California-based company said on its official blog.
The European Commission also said it would open a separate anti-trust investigation into Google's Android operating system, which dominates the global mobile phone market.
The Commission, which polices EU competition policy, said it had sent a formal "Statement of Objections" to Google charging it with "systematically favouring its own comparison shopping product in its general search results pages."
"The Commission's preliminary view is that such conduct infringes EU anti-trust rules because it stifles competition and harms consumers," a statement said.
The Commission said it would continue to examine three other areas of concern -- copying of rivals' web content, exclusive advertising regimes and undue restrictions on advertisers -- identified in probes dating back to 2010.
In a major development, it also announced it would investigate "Google's conduct as regards the mobile operating system Android."
"The investigation will focus on whether Google has entered into anti-competitive agreements or abused a possible dominant position in the field of operating systems, applications and services for smart mobile devices," the statement said.
If found at fault under EU anti-trust rules, a company faces a fine of up to 10 percent of its annual sales -- in Google's case, $66 billion (62 billion euros) in 2014.
EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said the aim was to ensure that "companies operating in Europe, wherever they may be based, do not artificially deny European consumers as wide a choice as possible or stifle innovation".
"In the case of Google I am concerned that the company has given an unfair advantage to its own comparison shopping service, in breach of EU antitrust rules."
Google has 10 weeks to reply on this count, but if the formal investigation finds the company in the wrong it would "face the legal consequences and change the way it does business in Europe," Vestager said.
She said Android it is vital for Android to be open to all.
"Smartphones, tablets and similar devices play an increasing role in many people's daily lives, and I want to make sure the markets in this area can flourish without anti-competitive constraints imposed by any company," the competition commissioner said.