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EU lawmakers urge regulators to break up Google

11/27/2014 | 03:06pm US/Eastern
People pose with laptops in front of projection of Google logo in this picture illustration taken in Zenica

European Union lawmakers overwhelmingly backed a motion on Thursday urging anti-trust regulators to break up Google (>> Google Inc), the latest setback for the world's most popular Internet search engine.

European Union lawmakers overwhelmingly backed a motion on Thursday urging anti-trust regulators to break up Google (>> Google Inc), the latest setback for the world's most popular Internet search engine.

Google has been in the EU's regulatory sights since 2010, and is also grappling with privacy issues, requests to scrub search results to comply with a court ruling, copyright concerns and tax controversies.

The non-binding resolution in the European Parliament is the strongest public signal yet of Europe's concern with the growing power of U.S. tech giants. It was passed with 384 votes for and 174 against.

German conservative lawmaker and co-sponsor of the bill Andreas Schwab said it was a political signal to the European Commission, which is tasked with ensuring a level playing field for business across the 28-country bloc.

"Monopolies in whatever market have never been useful, neither for consumers nor for the companies," he said.

Schwab said he had nothing against Google and was a regular user. "I use Google every day," he said.

Google declined to comment. European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager has said she will review the case and talk to complainants before deciding on the next step.

Her predecessor rejected three attempts by the company to settle complaints that it unfairly demoted rival services and stave off a possible fine of up to $5 billion.

Adding to the pressure on Google, France and Germany called on Thursday for a review of the EU's competition rules to ensure global Internet companies could successfully be targeted.

They wrote to the Commission asking it to launch a public consultation "to discuss the framework that should be applied to these economic actors, to see if today's competition rules allow us to target the behaviours of these companies," said Axelle Lemaire, French state secretary for digital affairs.

Lemaire said the two governments wanted to make sure the tax optimisation strategies used by companies to lower their corporate tax rates "are no longer possible".

The Commission is investigating a number of tax deals between companies such as Apple (>> Apple Inc.) and Amazon (>> Amazon.com, Inc.) and some member states on the grounds they may constitute illegal state aid.

FOUR-YEAR INVESTIGATION

The resolution did not mention Google or any specific search engine, though Google is by far the dominant provider of such services in Europe with an estimated 90 percent market share.

The lawmakers called on the Commission to consider proposals to unbundle search engines from other commercial services.

Some politicians criticised the proposal.

"Parliament should not be engaging in anti-Google resolutions, inspired by a heavy lobby of Google competitors or by anti-free market ideology, but ensure fair competition and consumer choice," said lawmaker Sophie in't Veld from the Parliament's ALDE liberal group.

Google is the target of a four-year investigation by the Commission, triggered by complaints from Microsoft (>> Microsoft Corporation), Expedia (>> Expedia Inc), European publishers and others.

Lobbying group Computer & Communications Industry Association, whose members include Google, eBay (>> eBay Inc) Facebook (>> Facebook Inc), Microsoft and Samsung (>> Samsung Electronics Co Ltd), said unbundling was an "extreme and unworkable" solution that made no sense in rapidly changing online markets.

"While clearly targeting Google, the parliament is in fact suggesting all search companies, or online companies with a search facility, may need to be separated. This is of great concern as we try to create a digital single market," it said.

(Additional reporting by Julia Fioretti and Alastair Macdonald; editing by Keith Weir and Keiron Henderson)

By Foo Yun Chee and Philip Blenkinsop

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