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Culture minister rejects calls for UK probe of Google search biz

Ed Vaizey agrees to meet with Foundem members

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Culture minister Ed Vaizey has rejected calls for UK regulators to investigate Google's search business practices.

Tory MP Dominic Raab asked Vaizey to comment on why the Office of Fair Trading or indeed the Competition Commission hadn't undertaken their own probes into Google's search product, which currently has a 95 per cent share of the European market.

"I understand that the minister may feel tempted to defer to the European Commission inquiry, but Britain must also ask whether enough is being done to prevent such abuse and why we have to wait for the cumbersome, clumping, clumsy conclusions of the European Commission to preserve our own free market at home," he said during a Westminster Hall debate yesterday afternoon.

"The EU anti-trust probe is, I think, an adequate remedy at the moment, and I gather that the OFT looked into the matter three or four years ago and does not feel the need to do so again at this time," Vaizey responded.

"My hon. Friend is, of course, perfectly able to contact the OFT and to suggest a change of heart. Without wishing for this to be taken in any way as a criticism of the OFT or the Competition Commission, I should say that my hon. Friend might find that their procedures, in his perception, are clunky and time-consuming-I imagine that any probe would take at least two years," the culture minister retorted.

Raab also raised the issue of Bracknell, UK-based price comparison site Foundem, which is part of the EU investigation into Google currently underway in Brussels.

Among other things, Foundem has accused Google of using its so-called Universal Search setup to unfairly drive traffic to its own vertical services, such as Google Product Search and Google Maps.

"It is time that we all got real about this," argued Tory MP Phillip Lee, whose constituency is in Bracknell.

"Ofcom and the Office of Fair Trading have the necessary legislation - the Competition Act 1998 - and EU law to support them. They need to get on with protecting British start-ups, so that those businesses can thrive and there is a fair environment in which they can exist."

Lee was at pains to add that the debate shouldn't focus on commerce, but rather on where "services, knowledge and information" are accessed.

"[T]his company [Google] has suppressed the growth of a business in my constituency - that is the reality. I do not think that that is in the best interests of this country, and I do not think that one company having that amount of power is in the best interests of this country, too," he added.

Lee went on to urge Vaizey to meet with Foundem representatives, and said the culture minister had previously been approached by the company.

Vaizey said he would be "absolutely delighted" to meet the founders of Foundem. ®

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