The Wall Street Journal is reporting that EU regulators are possibly just weeks away from slapping Google with antitrust charges based on complaints similar to those levelled against it in the United States.
Despite the fact that staffers at the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) concluded that Google harmed “innovation in online search and ad markets” the search giant managed to dodge antitrust charges that could have threatened the company’s search dominance.
According to the Wall Street Journal’s sources, EU regulators have been seeking for companies that filed confidential complaints about Google are granted permission to publish some of the information in their complaints publicly.
That could be a crucial step in making a public case for action that could be as significant as fines totalling as much as 10% of Google’s annual revenue, or even the breakup of Google as a company.
The EU’s antitrust investigation into Google has been going on for five years, and at times the outcome has been uncertain.
However, the accidentally released FTC documents suggest that if EU regulators are serious about taking action against Google, they probably won’t have a difficult time finding evidence that Google has abused its dominance in search to the detriment of competitors in the EU.
To be sure, many of those competitors will probably welcome forceful action on the part of the EU. But even if EU regulators are able to make antitrust charges stick, it’s not clear just how much those harmed by Google, theoretically or actually, will benefit.
Smaller competitors that allege that Google takes advantage of its search dominance to direct traffic to its own properties, such as Google Shopping, won’t necessarily be able to capture more traffic, or monetize it effectively.
Companies that have complained about Google’s scraping of their content might be able to force the search giant to stop, but that won’t necessarily bolster their bottom lines. Google partners that say they’ve been strong-armed into signing exclusive agreements won’t necessarily find that other partnership opportunities deliver better results.
Obviously, none of this means that the EU shouldn’t take action. If there’s evidence Google acted in an anti-competitive fashion in violation of the law, action would be entirely appropriate.
But reigning in Google won’t guarantee that those Google has harmed will thrive in the market. And it won’t guarantee that companies like Facebook that pose the greatest long-term threats to Google don’t themselves become dominant forces that smaller companies struggle to deal with.
If the EU seeks to put Google in its place, those companies should keep that in mind.