First Microsoft, Intel, and now Google: EU opens antitrust investigation

It was only a matter of time before the European Union got around to an antitrust investigation of Google. Published reports say that the trade regulator has written to Google, asking a series of questions about its search functions and the way that it sells advertising.

The queries come after complaints from United Kingdom search site Foundem, a price comparison site; Ciao, an online shopping site owned by Microsoft; and ejustice.fr, a French site that handles legal services. The investigation is reportedly under the Lisbon Treaty’s’ “abuse of dominant position” law.

Google has an estimated 90 percent share of the search market in the U.K., and Foundem claims that Google has imposed a “search penalty” on its business. Last August, Foundem said on its web site that “Google has always used various penalty filters to remove certain sites entirely from its search results or place them so far down the rankings that they will never be found.”

Foundem contended these penalties were levied against legitimate vertical search and directory services, not just sites that spam or try to game the system. When Google allegedly lifted the penalty in December, Foundem saw a 10,000 percent increase in traffic overnight from Google searches. Google has denied those claims. It’s no surprise that the Microsoft division, Ciao, that Microsoft bought in 2008 for $500 million, has filed a complaint, as the big companies are at war on a variety of fronts.