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EU examines Google antitrust complaints 'very carefully'

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The European Commission turned its Google-investigation heat up another notch Wednesday with a few well-chosen words from its top antitrust official.

"The work is at an early stage, but given the importance of search to a competitive online marketplace, I am looking at the allegations very carefully," EU commissioner Joaquin Almunia told his audience during a speech at University College London, referring to complaints lodged against the Mountain View ad broker and search provider.

As reported by the Financial Times, Almunia is closely examining complaints citing Google's alleged anticompetive practices filed earlier this year by UK shopping search service Foundem, French legal search group ejustice.fr, and German shopping site Ciao — the latter owned by Microsoft, which has lodged other complaints about Google's practices, as well.

At the heart of the grievances brought to Almunia's attention is the claim that Google is unfairly skewing its search-algorithm secret sauce to demote its competitors from the high-response top spots in its results listings.

Google, for its part, issued a statement Wednesday saying that it was "very confident" that it was operating within the law. It added: "We're working with the commissioner and his team to answer their questions, including how Google's search ranking works to produce the most relevant and useful search results for users."

But whether or not Google is "working with the commissioner", it appears that the commissioner is avidly working during this fact-finding period to determine whether a formal probe into Google's alleged anticompetitive practices should be launched — and soon. The FT cites "growing speculation in Brussels legal circles" that such a probe might be launched after the summer break.

If — when? — such a probe is launched, Google will have more to worry about than placating Europeans incensed about its data-slurping Street View camera cars. ®

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