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Google Slapped With Antitrust Charges in EU

(CN) - After nearly five years of investigation - and a supposed settlement - EU regulators on Wednesday finally slapped Google with antitrust charges for skewing Internet search results in favor of its own ads.

The European Commission also said it will investigate whether the tech giant entered into anticompetitive agreements or abused its dominant market position with its Android operating system.

The charges come more than a year after the commission announced it had settled complaints that Google promoted its Google Shopping ads more prominently than rival comparison shopping services in general Internet searches.

Specifically, the EU's regulatory body alleged that Google's practices made it too difficult for upstarts to get into the online-advertising business by blocking advertisers from switching to other search engines and forcing website publishers to obtain the majority of their online search advertisements from Google.

Google handles 90 percent or more of all Internet searches done in Europe.

The company agreed in February 2014 to display ad results from three rivals - selected objectively - beside its own promoted content. An independent monitor will assess compliance for at least the next five years, as well as oversee a bidding process through which the rivals will pay Google for featuring their ads in a search.

But ongoing complaints from Google's competitors and pressure from EU lawmakers led the commission to issue what it calls a statement of objections - the precursor to an antitrust lawsuit.

Google has 10 weeks to respond to the charges.

"The commercial importance of appearing prominently in Google's general search results is obvious," said competition commission Margrethe Vestager. "I am concerned that Google has artificially boosted its presence in the comparison shopping market, with the result that consumers may not necessarily see the most relevant results in response to their queries, and Google's competitors may not get the commercial opportunities that their innovations deserve."

She added: "The commission's objective is to apply EU antitrust rules to ensure that companies operating in Europe, wherever they may be based, do not artificially deny European consumers as wide a choice as possible or stifle innovation."

The commission also opened what it calls a formal in-depth investigation into Google's Android operating system and whether the company blocked rivals by requiring smartphone and tablet manufacturers to pre-install its own apps and services exclusively.

Google may have also blocked manufacturers from developing competing versions of Android - which is supposedly open-source - and stifled competition by bundling Google apps and programming on Android devices, the commission said.

The Android investigation is "distinct and separate" from antitrust charges relating to Google Shopping, the commission said.

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