The European Commission said Tuesday that it has opened a formal antitrust investigation into whether Google has abused its dominant position in the online search market by favoring its own services over those offered by competitors.
The commission, the European Union's regulatory arm, said the probe was launched after receiving complaints from search service providers that their services are treated unfairly in Google's unpaid and sponsored search results, while favoring the Internet firm's own offerings.
"The Commission will investigate whether Google has abused a dominant market position in online search by allegedly lowering the ranking of unpaid search results of competing services which are specialized in providing users with specific online content such as price comparisons (so-called vertical search services) and by according preferential placement to the results of its own vertical search services in order to shut out competing services," the commission said in a statement.
It also said it would examine whether Google lowered the "quality score," one of the factors it uses in determining the price paid by Google advertisers, for sponsored links of competing search services. In addition, the investigation will examine allegations that Google requires advertising partners to agree to "exclusivity obligations" that prevent them from placing competing ads on their websites to block other competing search tools and also whether Google has imposed restrictions on the portability of online advertising campaign data to competing online advertising platforms.
Google revealed in February that three Internet firms had filed complaints against it with the commission. Google said the three firms include the British price comparison site Foundem, a French legal search engine, ejustice.fr, and Microsoft's Ciao from Bing, all of which made allegations similar to those being investigated by the commission.
UPDATE: In a statement Tuesday, Google said, "Since we started Google, we have worked hard to do the right thing by our users and our industry -- ensuring that ads are always clearly marked, making it easy for users to take their data with them when they switch services and investing heavily in open source projects. But there's always going to be room for improvement, and so we'll be working with the commission to address any concerns."