Europe is getting ready to throw the book at Google

Larry PageREUTERS/Rick WilkingGoogle cofounder and CEO Larry Page

The European Union is going to file antitrust charges against Google in the next few weeks, according to a new report in the Wall Street Journal.

The EU has been investigating Google for several years now, but now the region’s top antitrust authority, the European Commission, has been asking companies who filed confidential complaints against Google for permission to publish those complaints.

The Commission could end up fining Google up to 10% of its annual revenues, which would be more than $US6 billion based on last year’s revenue.

The specific document the EU is reportedly preparing is known as a Statement of Objections. Once filed, it could kick off several years more of deeper investigations, counter-statements, and settlement discussions. If the company and the EU cannot reach a settlement, the EU could then issue penalties, including fines and restrictions on Google’s behaviour.

Google would then have the right to appeal the case to the highest European court.

Even if the case is settled without a huge fine, antitrust cases are a major distraction for the companies going through them, as the Microsoft antitrust battles showed. Companies can also become timid about moving into new markets, and face delays as products have to go through extra legal review.

Sergey BrinAP/Eric RisbergThe other Google cofounder, Sergey Brin

So no matter how this shakes out, it’s a bad day for Google.

Recently, complaints against Google entered the spotlight again after the WSJ found a previously secret document from the US Federal Trade Commission which explained how Google was favouring its own sites in search results.

Staffers at the FTC recommended suing Google for antitrust, but Google made some changes to its search practices and the FTC dropped the investigation without suing in 2012.

Last November, the European parliament passed a non-binding resolution suggesting that Google should be forced to separate its search business from its other businesses. That resolution actually never mentioned Google by name, but it was clear that it was referencing the US search giant.

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