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EU probes 'nature of concerns' from Google rivals

How much of a sticky mess is the Chocolate Factory in?

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UK-based vertical search engine Foundem – which spearheaded antitrust investigations into Google in the US and Europe – is patiently awaiting a response from competition officials in Brussels, who are meticulously scrutinising complaints from the internet giant's rivals.

A 400-page statement of objections had been expected to be handed to Google from the European Commission late last year.

However, since then, the office of Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia has issued carefully-worded statements that suggest the EC is yet to decide on whether it will in fact issue a statement of objections detailing the complaints from online outfits that claim Google's tactics have hurt their businesses.

In a statement to The Register late yesterday, a spokeswoman for Almunia said: "The Commission is dealing with this case as a matter of priority. By the end of the first quarter, we will probably be in a position to conclude on the nature of the concerns given the evidence gathered."

That comment is slightly different in tone to the one made by the commissioner at the start of the year, when he confirmed – in answer to a question posed by an MEP – that the "commission is to date not in a position to say whether its investigation will lead to issuing a statement of objections."

The latest statement from Almunia's spokeswoman comes after the commissioner told a Reuters' reporter earlier this week that he was expecting comments from the team working on the case by the end of March.

When asked by El Reg if the commission could confirm that those "conclusions" would involve a statement of objections, the spokeswoman declined to comment.

Foundem CEO Shivaun Raff told us that she hoped the EC was moving "swiftly and decisively" on the case.

"Behind closed doors Google's defence has been unravelling for over a year," she added.

"Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt's recent testimony provides the first public glimpse of the extent to which Google's paper thin defence crumbles in the face of informed scrutiny."

We asked the antitrust arm of the EC if its already sweeping probe of Google's alleged efforts to favour its own products at the expense of smaller internet search firms had been widened to include an investigation of Google+.

Reportedly, the US Federal Trade Commission – which is currently conducting its own investigation into anti-competitive claims brought against Google on that side of the Atlantic – has already done just that.

Earlier this month, the company confirmed it would begin slotting "personal results" from its social network directly into its search engine – a move that was met with a collective groan from many observers.

According to Reuters, a source suggested that Brussels' officials had already expanded the investigation to include Google+ in the probe. The commission, however, declined to comment.

Other complainants in the case include Microsoft-owned Ciao! and French outfit eJustice.

We asked Google to comment on this story, but it hadn't got back to us at time of writing. ®

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