Breaking up Google is just one possible antritrust option, EU lawmakers say

A rotation mechanism showing commercial services from Google and its competitors is also an option

Breaking up Google by separating its search engine from other commercial services is only one of the actions the European Commission could take to resolve the company's antitrust problems, say members of Parliament who are proposing the split.

A draft version of a European Parliament resolution, reported by news outlets over the weekend, calls on the Commission to break up Google as one way to solve competition issues with the search engine provider, which is the biggest in Europe.

The Parliament is set to discuss the resolution, which also deals with a range of other European tech issues, on Wednesday in Strasbourg and vote on it on Thursday. As the resolution is still a draft, its text could still change. If adopted, it would also be non-binding though it would force a response from the Commission.

The resolution was drafted by German Parliament member Andreas Schwab [cq], a member of the center-right European People's Party, and Ramon Tremosa [cq] of Spain, a member of the Parliament's Liberal group.

In the draft, they call on the Commission "to consider proposals with the aim of unbundling search engines from other commercial services as one potential long-term solution" to deal with competition issues in the sector.

Google, which has captured about 90 percent of the EU's search market, has been under antitrust scrutiny since competitors filed complaints with the European Commission in 2010. They said Google favored its own services in search results while reducing the visibility of results from competing sites. So far, the issue has not been resolved. Earlier this month the EU's new antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager, [cq] announced she was planning to get up to speed with the issue by talking to directly affected parties.

Tremosa and Schwab said in a joint news release on Monday that they are not against Google per se, but are rather against monopolies.

"We want fair and neutral search in the interest of consumers. Unbundling is one of the ideas but we proposed several ideas of solutions that are on the table," they said. One of them is a rotation mechanism, which would display commercial services from Google and its competitors in the same location and with the same prominence on the search results page.

"The mechanism would hinder Google from applying the ranking algorithms that it currently uses. Thereby, it would be guaranteed that users receive relevant results while benefiting from greater choice," the MEPs said, comparing the solution to the Browser Choice Screen that Microsoft had to introduce after a EU antitrust investigation in 2009. The screen is shown to Windows users who have Internet Explorer set as their default browser.

Another option for resolving Google's antitrust issues is to adopt legal measures that would specifically prevent anticompetitive behavior in search, Tremosa and Schwab said.

It is "essential that competition within the EU is not obstructed by multinational Internet companies that possess a dominant position," Tremosa and Schwab said. Therefore, strong measures are needed against such abuses, they said, inviting Vestager to attend a new hearing on the Google case with all the complainants.

A Commission spokesman said in an email that search engines are key players in the development of a European Digital Single Market. "We are committed to ensuring fair competition in the markets they are active in. Commissioner Vestager will decide on how to take the ongoing antitrust investigations into Google's business practices forward, once she has heard what those most directly affected by the practices in question have to say," the spokesman said.

Google declined to comment. However, the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), of which Google is a member, said in a blog post that a breakup could encourage similar proceedings against other companies in the future.

"This motion, especially if passed by Parliament, threatens to undermine the credibility of a long running Commission investigation by blatantly interjecting politics into a legal process," the CCIA said. "Even though this motion is clearly directed at one company, the approach taken in this motion -- and the politics surrounding the Google competition case in general -- has wider implications and threatens the entire Internet economy," it said, adding that it also harms the European economy by limiting its ability to fully harness and benefit from digital innovation and creative enterprises.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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Tags Googleregulationeuropean commissiongovernmentinternetsearch enginesEuropean Parliament

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