Google chairman Eric Schmidt paid a visit to Brussels today to meet with European Commissioner Joaquín Almunia in person.
Google has been prancing in a complicated minuet with the European Commission over its business practices, which some European companies say violate antitrust laws.
While some sources say the EC is getting ready to slap the search giant with a 400-page nastygram, Google is still wearing its poker face and saying it does not expect any formal objections from regulators.
The EC started a wide-ranging investigation of the search giant’s business practices in November 2010. At that time, several parties were alleging that Google was taking unfair advantage of what they called “a dominant position in online search.”
These parties stated that Google was “lowering the search ranking of unpaid search results of competing services” (for example, lowering the ranking of a shopping and product search website while raising the ranking of Google Shopping results). Another allegation is that Google set a lower Quality Score for its competitors’ sponsored links (Quality Scores help the company to set its ad prices; a lower score would mean a lower ad price) and that Google “imposes exclusivity obligations on advertising partners, preventing them from placing certain types of competing ads on their web sites, as well as on computer and software vendors, with the aim of shutting out competing search tools.”
The EC has previously said that although its investigation is quite formal and the allegations quite specifically corresponding to EU laws, “This initiation of proceedings does not imply that the Commission has proof of any infringements. It only signifies that the Commission will conduct an in-depth investigation of the case as a matter of priority.”
So far, Google has turned over thousand of documents in compliance with the investigation.
Some sources, such as the Financial Times, are reporting that the EC’s investigation is about to yield a formal statement of objection, which would significantly escalate the import of the proceedings.
However, to date, Google has had no clear indication that a statement of objection is forthcoming.
A Googler told us that Schmidt’s visit with the Commissioner was “uneventful.”
“We frequently meet with policy makers and regulators around the world. We’re always happy to discuss issues affecting our industry and explain how our business works,” the company said in an official statement.
Image courtesy of Jolie O’Dell.