Antitrust regulators in Europe have Google in their sights. In November 2010, the European Commission opened an informal investigation into the search giant to determine if it is abusing its position in the market.
The investigation covers everything from the company's treatment of competitors' search results to its new social network Google+. Normally, antitrust investigations like this take years to complete, but it appears that the EU may be moving much more quickly than normal.
According to Reuters, a decision could be made by the end of this quarter:
"I will receive comments from the case team towards the end of the first quarter. I do not expect anything sooner. Let us see," EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia told Reuters at the sidelines of an industry conference late on Tuesday.
Until this point officials had been playing down expectations of an early conclusion to the informal investigation stage, although there still could be a long way to go.
With all of the furor around Google Search, plus Your World, it's not entirely surprising to see reports that European regulators are trying to expedite their review of Google's practices.
The big question: is this a good or bad omen for Google?
On one hand, some of the complaints that the EU is looking at seem very questionable. The foundation of the complaint by the U.K. price comparison site Foundem isn't exactly impressive once you dig under the surface. Other companies filing complaints include France's Ciao, which is owned by Microsoft, calling into question their true motivations.
On the other hand, the fact that the European Commission has expanded its probe to include Google+ hints that it's determined to find something, and given what's at stake for one of the internet's largest and most important companies, reports that the EU's informal investigation may end much sooner than expected probably don't bode well for Google.
If these reports are correct, 2012 could prove to be one of the most important years in Google's history, and not in a good way.