On Thursday, the EC charged Google in a "statement of objections" that it has placed restrictions on the ability of certain third party websites to display search advertisements from the search giant's competitors. Google places search ads directly on the its search website but also as an intermediary on third party websites through its "AdSense for Search" platform, according to the Commission.
As a result, the company has prevented existing and potential competitors, including other search providers and online advertising platforms, from entering and growing in this lucrative area, according to the Commission.
By European Commission rules, a statement of objections is a formal step in its antitrust investigations in which the commission informs the parties concerned in writing of the objections raised against them.
The Commission also added a supplementary statement of objections to earlier charges that it leveled against the company in April 2015 that Google used its dominant position to favor its own comparison shopping product in search results
“Today, we have further strengthened our case that Google has unduly favored its own comparison shopping service in its general search result pages,” Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said. “It means consumers may not see the most relevant results to their search queries.”
The Commission said it had examined Google's argument that comparison shopping services should not be considered in isolation, but together with the services provided by merchant platforms such as as Amazon and eBay.
On April 15 last year, the Commission announced a “statement of objections” against the search giant in an investigation into charges that its Internet search in Europe favored its own comparison shopping product.
The Commission said it considers comparison shopping services and merchant platforms as separate markets. The supplementary statement of objections finds that even if merchant platforms are included in the market impacted by Google's practices, comparison shopping services are a significant part of that market, and Google by its practices has "weakened or even marginalised" competition, the Commission said.
Google and parent Alphabet have eight weeks to respond to the supplementary statement of objections and 10 weeks to respond to the statement of objections regarding AdSense.
“We believe that our innovations and product improvements have increased choice for European consumers and promote competition. We’ll examine the Commission’s renewed cases and provide a detailed response in the coming weeks,” said Google spokesman Mark Jansen in an email.
The Commission in April also made antitrust charges against Google, alleging that the company foisted its search application and the Chrome browser on Android smartphones makers as a condition to license its other apps and services. Vestager said that the Google had asked for an extension to reply to these charges.
"Today's Supplementary Statement of Objections to Google, reinforcing the Commission’s preliminary conclusion that Google has abused its dominant position by systematically favoring its comparison shopping service in its search result pages, is another decisive step towards restoring the level playing field required for competition and innovation to thrive," said Shivaun Raff, CEO and co-founder of Foundem, the lead complainant in the Commission's Google Search case, in an email.