European Union investigators have found Google Inc. cheated consumers and competitors by distorting search results to favor its own shopping service.
The findings were released after a five-year investigation that could change the rules for business online, Reuters reported Thursday
Authorities have also launched another antitrust investigation into the Android mobile operating system, a key element in Google’s strategy to maintain revenue from online advertising as people switch from Web browser searches to smartphone apps.
EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said Google, which dominates internet search engine markets worldwide, has been sent a charge sheet and has 10 weeks to respond.
Investigations into Google’s business practices in other areas will continue.
The shopping case, on which the EU has had the most complaints dating back the longest time, could potentially set a precedent for concerns over Google’s search products for hotels, flights and other services.
Vestager, a Dane who took over the politically charged case in November, announced the moves on the eve of a high-profile visit to the United States.
Her findings follow nearly five years of investigation and abortive efforts by her Spanish predecessor, Joaquin Almunia, to strike deals with Google.
“I am concerned that the company has given an unfair advantage to its own comparison shopping service, in breach of EU antitrust rules,” she said.
Google could face fines if the commission proves its case that it has used its “near monopoly” in Europe to push Google Shopping ahead of rivals for the past seven years.
Google has rejected the charges.
Meanwhile, Google’s rivals are pushing United States antitrust enforcers to investigate the use of Android, two people with knowledge of the matter said.
Analysts said the EU charges were unlikely to hurt Google’s evaluation because it reflected the regulatory risk.
In its first reaction, the Mountain View, California-based company said in a blog post that it strongly disagreed with the EU’s findings and said its products have fostered competition and benefited consumers.
“Android has been a key player in spurring this competition and choice, lowering prices and increasing choice for everyone (there are over 18,000 different devices available today),” it said of its free operating system for mobile devices.
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