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Report: Google back in Europe's crosshairs over web domination claims

Antitrust investigation set to widen after rivals trash settlement deal

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Regulators in Europe are about to rewrite a settlement with Google and expand their anti-competition probe into the web giant, it's claimed. The company was already under the microscope for allegedly screwing over its rivals in web search results.

The Wall Street Journal cited the proverbial "person with knowledge" in reporting that Brussels may now scrutinize other Google products, such as Android and YouTube, as well as tack extra demands onto a proposed settlement with the advertising giant.

Google was accused of abusing its dominant position in online search to unfairly promote its own stuff and tuck away rival websites. More than a dozen organizations, including a Microsoft-linked campaign group, cried foul, and Google agreed in a settlement to change the way it links to competitors.

The proposed deal, which would not impose any fines or other sanctions on Google, was hit by a storm of criticism from opponents, who argued it would not sufficiently restrict the company to prevent further abuse of market position.

Now it seems the European Commission has taken notice of the condemnation. It's also reported that concerns over US spying on Google's users, as revealed by NSA leaker Edward Snowden, played a part in the rethink.

"We have written to the formal complainants in the ongoing proceedings and we have not received yet all their replies," a spokesman for the Commission said.

"In early August all replies will have been submitted. We will then thoroughly analyze the arguments they contain and, depending on the outcome of that analysis, the next steps will be decided by Mr Almunia in September."

The reopening of the investigation is an about-face for the European Commission and its antitrust supremo Joaquin Almunia, who had previously indicated he did not want to reverse plans for a five-year settlement deal with the Chocolate Factory.

Reports also suggest that Almunia, who steps down from his post in November, may even be willing to hand the matter over to his successor.

One of Google's critics, antitrust group ICOMP, said reports of a revised settlement were encouraging, but should be greeted with caution.

"The Commission’s investigation has found that Google’s abusive practices have caused damage to competitors and foreclosed competition in a number of online markets, this must be rectified," the group said in a statement provided to The Reg.

"It is clear that these practices need to come to an end immediately and we will continue to urge the Commission that for this to be achieved only a real and meaningful deterrent will persuade Google to comply."

Google is not only facing heat for its apparent search bias: other platforms could also be the subject scrutiny from antitrust regulators. The Reg recently found out that the internet goliath is also facing a probe for its handling of the Android platform and possible violations in dealings with mobile device makers. ®

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