Searching for harm or harming search? A look at the European Commission’s antitrust investigation against Google

Monday, 21 September 2015
CEPS Special Reports
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As the European Commission’s antitrust investigation against Google approaches its final stages, its contours and likely outcome remain obscure and blurred by a plethora of non-antitrust-related arguments. At the same time, the initial focus on search neutrality as an antitrust principle seems to have been abandoned by the European Commission, in favour of a more standard allegation of ‘exclusionary abuse’, likely to generate anticompetitive foreclosure of Google’s rivals. This paper discusses search neutrality as an antitrust principle, and then comments on the current investigation based on publicly available information. The paper provides a critical assessment of the likely tests that will be used for the definition of the relevant product market, the criteria for the finding of dominance, the anticompetitive foreclosure test and the possible remedies that the European Commission might choose. Overall, and regardless of the outcome of the Google case, the paper argues that the current treatment of exclusionary abuses in Internet markets is in urgent need of a number of important clarifications, and has been in this condition for more than a decade. The hope is that the European Commission will resist the temptation to imbue the antitrust case with an emphasis and meaning that have nothing to do with antitrust (from industrial policy motives to privacy, copyright or media law arguments) and that, on the contrary, the Commission will devote its efforts to sharpening its understanding of dynamic competition in cyberspace, and the tools that should be applied in the analysis of these peculiar, fast-changing and often elusive settings.

Andrea Renda is Senior Fellow in the Regulatory Affairs research unit at CEPS and George C. Lamb Jr. Regulatory Fellow at Duke University.