The European Parliament calls for search engines to split from other business

The European Parliament has called on the EC to enforce competition rules by pressuring search engines to split from other commercial services

The European Parliament has called on EU member states and the European Commission (EC) to break down barriers to the growth of the EU's digital single market in a resolution voted on the 28 November 2014.

In a move clearly aimed at Google, members of the European Parliament (MEPs) emphasised the need to prevent online companies from abusing dominant positions by enforcing EU competition rules and unbundling search engines from other commercial services.

The digital single market could generate an additional €260bn a year for the EU economy, as well as boosting its competitiveness, says the resolution, which was approved by 384 votes to 174.

However, it warns challenges, such as market fragmentation and lack of interoperability, as well as regional and demographic inequalities in access to the technology, need to be tackled to unlock this potential.

The resolution underlines that “the online search market is of particular importance in ensuring competitive conditions in the digital single market” and welcomes the EC’s pledges to investigate further the business practices of search companies.

The resolution also calls on the EC “to prevent any abuse in the marketing of interlinked services by operators of search engines", stressing the importance of non-discriminatory online search.

MEPs said: "Indexation, evaluation, presentation and ranking by search engines must be unbiased and transparent."

Google’s alleged abuse of its dominant search market position in Europe and allegations of diverting traffic to its own services are at the heart of a four-year investigation by the EC.

The EC has rejected all Google’s proposals so far aimed at satisfying concerns about anti-competitive business practices.

Google is estimated to have a 90% share of the internet search market in Europe.

Given the role of search engines in “commercialising secondary exploitation of obtained information” and the need to enforce EU competition rules, MEPs also called on the EC “to consider proposals with the aim of unbundling search engines from other commercial services” in the long run.

In a reference to the net neutrality debate, MEPs said “all internet traffic should be treated equally, without discrimination, restriction or interference”.

MEPs urged member states to start negotiations on the telecoms package to put an end to roaming charges inside the EU, provide more legal certainty on net neutrality and improve consumer protection.

On cloud computing, MEPs are calling on the EC “to take the lead in promoting international standards and specifications for cloud computing” to ensure that it is privacy friendly, reliable, accessible, highly interoperable, secure and energy efficient.

All internet traffic should be treated equally, without discrimination, restriction or interference

MEPs

The resolution still has to be approved by the EC to take effect, but observers say the vote in favour of separating search from other online products means Google could face a major regulatory headache.

The vote highlights European concerns about Google’s dominant market position, and could trigger a fresh round of investigations by European regulators.

While Europe has no power to force the breakup of Google, if approved by the EC, the resolution could force a re-organisation of European subsidiaries of Google and other search engines.

The EC is expected to give Google the chance to respond to the resolution before deciding what action to take. According to reports, Google has so far declined to comment.

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