News Corp. Adds to Google Antitrust Woes on Android, Search

  • Media companies file new complaint over Google search and news
  • EU is said to speed up separate antitrust probe into Android

Google’s antitrust woes in the European Union are growing, as News Corp. filed a new complaint against the legality of the U.S. tech giant’s search and news services at the same time as EU regulators are preparing a formal complaint on its Android mobile-phone operating system.

The complaint by the owner of the Times of London and the Sun papers argues that Google keeps users within its own services by displaying enough news content to deter people clicking through to the publishers’ sites that produced it -- meaning they lose potential ad revenue. Separately, the EU may be gearing up to send Google a statement of objections, laying out its antitrust concerns, in the Android probe.

“Our concern is that, by requiring phone makers and operators to pre-load a set of Google apps, rather than letting them decide for themselves which apps to load, Google might have cut off one of the main ways that new apps can reach customers,” EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said Monday in a speech about the Android probe in Amsterdam.

Regulatory concerns for Alphabet Inc.’s Google are ratcheting up, more than a year after EU lawmakers voted to break up the company if investigators didn’t act. Privacy officials have also slammed its reaction to a top court order to remove personal information from search results on demand.

News Corp. declined comment on the new complaint. Google spokesman Al Verney didn’t immediately respond to a call and e-mail seeking comment.

Assessment

The European Commission received a new complaint that “it will now assess,” EU spokesman Ricardo Cardoso said on Monday in response to a question about News Corp.

Google’s search engine and Google News protect and reinforce the general search dominance by offering scraped information on the Google services and preventing people from going to the actual news publishers’ Web sites, according to a person familiar with the new complaint who asked to not identified because the deliberations were confidential. That means the media companies don’t get page hits, cutting advertising income.

News publishers have been some of the most active forces calling for EU action to clamp down on what they say is Google’s growing power to direct traffic to their sites. Some have pushed for Google to pay an EU-wide fee for showing news content, mirroring a Spanish law passed in 2014.

Fears

"We are afraid of Google," Mathias Doepfner, chief executive officer of Germany’s largest publisher, Axel Springer, said in an open letter published in 2014 that helped build opposition to an attempted EU settlement with Google.

While part of publishers concerns’ cover Google’s use of content, a coalition of news groups also alleges that its advertising and analytics services has unfairly squeezed out rivals. The EU has also been stepping up scrutiny of Google’s advertising business in recent months.

Publishers’ complaints raise issues beyond the scope of competition law, Vestager’s predecessor Joaquin Almunia said in 2014.

News Corp. CEO Robert Thomson met with Vestager last month to discuss Google and said in a statement that the company has “yet to see concrete meaningful action” from Google “that contradicts our impressions that the company routinely exploits its market dominance and has little appreciation of the commercial or social value of high-quality journalism.”

First Complaint

Google lashed back at News Corp.’s first complaint to the EU in 2014, saying it wasn’t a gatekeeper to the Internet and news providers need to get used to face up to "much stiffer competition for people’s attention and for advertising euros."

The way the EU ramped up the Android probe follows a similar pattern to last year’s escalation of a separate case targeting Google’s comparison shopping-search service. The company received antitrust objections just weeks after rivals got EU requests to declassify documents, similar to those competitors recently got in the Android probe.

More than five years after the EU opened a separate investigation into Google’s search business, it’s still weighing whether to fine Google or order the company to change its business practices. In previous antitrust cases, the EU has forced Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp. to pay billions of euros in fines.

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