Google may see its EU antitrust inquiry widen

Could the European Union’s probe into Google go beyond its preliminary focus on the search giant’s shopping comparison service?

Yes, according to Reuters, which cited an anonymous source saying that 19 companies, including Microsoft and others not related to shopping services, make up the official complainants in the case.

Given the breadth of the list, it would be relatively easy for investigators to expand their probe, according to Reuters.

While only EU officials and Google know the identities of the official complainants, they are likely drawn from a group of 30 firms that have complained to officials.

Among those who have gone public with their complaint are Yelp, the consumer review site, a bunch of online mapping providers, several news aggregators and online travel sites, such as Expedia, Odiego and TripAdvisor.

Meanwhile, eBay’s John Donahoe told the Financial Times that eBay is a competitor to Google’s shopping comparison service.

This helps Google, which argued that regulators overlooked how it competes with both Amazon and eBay in online shopping, and as the FT puts it, “making questions about how it handles product queries on its own site beside the point.”

But Shivaun Raff, co-founder of Foundem, the UK comparison shopping service, told the FT that sites like Amazon and Ebay are full-service sites for third parties to sell their wares, whereas Foundem and Google are comparison shopping sites that take a fee to refer to other sites.

As the FT points out, in 2012 Google changed its shopping referral service to be advertising-based whereby merchants bid in an auction to have their businesses listed.

Gary Reback, a lawyer representing several U.S. comparison shopping engines against Google, told the FT “circumstances have changed….We don’t rank the same way we do on a relevance algorithm.”

The FT sums up Reback’s position as thus:

The commission’s call for Google to apply its algorithm fairly risked confusing the picture and distracting from more relevant ways of limiting Google’s power.

Above: Screenshot of Google’s logo. (KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

 

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