Google and European Competition Law


Google has been in the wars for the past year or so. Its status as a new kind of beneficent company has increasingly been questioned, and it has faced more and more criticism in Europe and elsewhere. Critics have been active on two principal fronts – privacy and market power. As the months pass, the latter issue has taken higher salience, with the launch of an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission in the US in June 2011 and an investigation begun in November 2010 by the key European competition authority, the European Commission, of complaints made by three companies. In Europe this is in addition to actions instituted within individual member states, such as France.

 The goal of this paper is to consider Google’s interactions to date with European competition law, particularly the Merger Regulations, and to discuss possible bases in the future for impugning Google’s conduct under that law. In some ways this is premature, as competition investigations advance at best at a slow and steady pace. For example, the Microsoft case in Europe, which is often cited as a point of comparison with any action against Google, took nearly a decade from start to finish, even if it did ultimately involve fines on the company of the order of €1 billion. Nonetheless the Google investigation does raise some extremely interesting issues which may help to illuminate the future regulation of search and other high-tech activities, whatever the outcome of the current complaints.

Prof. Martin Cave, Howard Williams