Google Search Antitrust Probe Said to Be Boosted by EU

  • Regulators may be poised to send extra statement of objections
  • Google also faces probes targeting Android and advertising

The European Union is bolstering its original antitrust investigation into Google’s search engine as regulators asked the company’s critics to declassify details of meetings and e-mail exchanges related to the probe, according to people familiar with the case.

That’s typically a final step before the EU files an antitrust complaint, meaning Google could have to defend itself against a supplementary statement of objections over its shopping-search service.

Officials frequently ask companies for permission to use confidential information before it sends out a so-called statement of objections, said the two people, who asked not to be named because the case isn’t public.

The EU has expanded its investigations into Google’s business practices since Margrethe Vestager took over as the bloc’s antitrust chief in late 2014. It’s opened probes into Google’s Android mobile operating system, filing a formal complaint in April, and people familiar with the inquiry into advertising services said Monday that the regulator is taking steps toward a statement of objections in that matter, too.

The European Commission declined to comment. Google representatives in Brussels didn’t respond to requests for comment.

A new statement of objections may delay a final EU ruling on search services until next year at the earliest. The EU has been slow to move forward with its first case into Alphabet Inc.’s Google unit. Vestager has said regulators were wading through “truckloads of data” to counter the company’s arguments.

Kate Sutton of U.K. mapping service Streetmap said in a Facebook post on Monday that the EU had asked her to approve adding a mention of an October 2015 meeting with investigators to their file.

Streetmap is a frequent critic of Google. It lost a separate London lawsuit against the company earlier this year. Two other people said they’d also received similar requests from the EU.

Aside from Google antitrust scrutiny on at least three fronts -- search, advertising and Android -- the EU is also probing complaints on its use of copyrighted content from publishers. EU technology regulators have hinted at possible rules on legal liability for online platforms like Google.

This adds to lengthy cases on privacy. Google is fighting the French privacy regulator which wants it to remove links to personal information worldwide in the wake of a 2014 court ruling confirming a right to be forgotten on the internet.

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