By Frederic Lardinois
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission gave Google (GOOG) a slap on the wrist after it concluded its antitrust investigation into the company's business practices, but it looks as if it may not get away that easily in Europe. The Financial Times reports that EU Competition Commissioner Joaqiun Almunia wants to "prevent Google distorting choices for consumers and taking business from rivals."
While the FTC investigation completely dropped all of the allegations that Google biased its search results to highlight its own products, the Financial Times report implies that the European Commission could make this the centerpiece of its antitrust charges against the company. Talking to the Financial Times, Almunia said that the EU is "still investigating," but his "conviction is [Google] are diverting traffic" and hurting competitors.
"They are monetizing this kind of business, the strong position they have in the general search market, and this is not only a dominant position, I think -- I fear -- there is an abuse of this dominant position," Almunia told the Financial Times.
As the Financial Times rightly notes, Google's position in Europe, where it commands more than 90% of the search engine market in many countries, is significantly stronger than in the U.S., where it is facing stronger competition from Microsoft (MSFT) and Yahoo (YHOO).
Google is expected to present its own proposal to avoid charges later this month, but in talking to the newspaper, Almunia also noted that he would be "obliged" to charge Google if its proposal "is unsatisfactory." Google has, for example, offered to label its own products, paid search results, and ads more clearly to avoid some of these charges. But chances are the European Commission will also ask Google for the same changes to ad portability and licensing standard essential patents the FTC now requires of the company.