Google (GOOG) once again finds itself on the radar of the European Union's antitrust agency, which now is looking at allegations that the search engine demotes rivals' sites in search results.
When a company reaches the level of market dominance Google has -- it holds a 70% market share in Europe -- regulatory authorities inevitably will investigate any hint of misbehavior. Microsoft (MSFT), which supplies the operating system used in most computers around the world, has been in the same position for years.
Joaquin Almunia, the EU's antitrust chief, said in a speech that the Google investigation is still at an early stage. The commission began investigating the search giant in late February, following complaints from three competitors: British price comparison site Foundem, French legal search engine ejustice.fr, and Microsoft service Ciao from Bing.
Google says its search results are fully controlled by algorithms that demote sites with little useful content for users. Almunia also appeared to accept Google's arguments that it is hard to behave as a monopoly on the Web because of its fluid nature, and that just despite the company's large market shares, it may not be dominant in the traditional sense.
In monopolistic cases, Almunia said, among the things the antitrust agency must consider are barriers to entry to competitors, whether a company can use its dominant position to affect other companies' statuses, and how easy is it for consumers to switch between services.
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