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Google gets more time to respond to European anti-competitive charges

The EC has granted Google a second extension of the deadline to respond to anti-competitive charges

The European Commission (EC) has given Google an extension to 31 August 2015 to answer charges that its online search advertising is anti-competitive.

The EC started an investigation into Google’s business practices in November 2010, notifying the company in March 2013 of concerns that the US firm had abused its dominance of the search market.

Since then, there have been numerous attempts on both sides to reach a voluntary settlement in the case, with Google promising in October 2013 to make a series of concessions to allay EC concerns.

In May 2014, the case appeared to be drawing to a close when former European Union (EU) competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia said Google had agreed to make changes to encourage greater competition.

But the proposed changes were fiercely opposed by Google’s competitors, including Microsoft, which claimed the proposals were not far-reaching enough. Google reportedly accounts for 90% of the EU search market.

Almunia failed to reach resolution before stepping down in October 2014, when the case was taken over by his successor Margrethe Vestager.

In April 2015, Vestager gave Google 10 weeks to respond to allegations that the search firm systematically favoured its own comparison shopping product in general search results pages.

At the time, Vestager said she was concerned Google had given an unfair advantage to its own service and competitors such as TripAdvisor and Yelp could be squeezed out by Google’s dominance.

“Google has the opportunity to convince the commission to the contrary. However, if the investigation confirms our concerns, Google would have to face the legal consequences and change the way it does business in Europe,” she said.

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The EC is also concerned Google may have hindered the development and market access of rival mobile operating systems, applications and products.

“I want to make sure the markets in this area can flourish without anti-competitive constraints,” said Vestager in reference to the EC investigation into Google’s Android operating system.

Vestager’s deadline of 24 June was first extended to 17 August 2015 and then to end of August 2015 at Google’s request. The EC confirmed the extension without providing any reason for Google’s request.

News of the extension comes just days after Google announced the restructuring of its global business to split it operations under a new parent company called Aphabet, but the two events are not connected, reports Politico, citing sources close to the case.

Google will reportedly not seek an oral hearing when it responds to the EC charges, even though that would have given Google more time to defend itself and the chance to speak directly to senior EC competition officials.

However, commentators said Google is likely to have decided to avoid the risk of its rivals’ influence as the 20 official complainants and 10 interested parties would have been invited to attend.

Once the EC receives Google’s response to the allegations, it must decide whether Google has broken EU law. Google could face huge fines if it fails to convince the EC of up to 10% of its worldwide turnover, which was $66bn in 2014.

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