Google hear­ing loss may help com­pany si­lence ri­vals in EU probe

The Pak Banker - - COMPANIES/BOSS -

Google Inc. has turned down the chance of a hear­ing with Euro­pean Union an­titrust watch­dogs and ri­vals, deny­ing its in­dus­try foes the chance to take another swipe at the search-en­gine gi­ant.

Google hit back on Thurs­day in a writ­ten re­sponse to an EU an­titrust com­plaint that ac­cused the com­pany of wield­ing its power for years to quell com­pe­ti­tion in the com­par­i­son-shop­ping mar­ket. But Google waived its right to de­mand a hear­ing to ar­gue its case in Brus­sels.

"It's highly un­usual for a com­pany em­broiled in an an­titrust probe to take a miss on an oral hear­ing when it gets a chance to call one," said Thomas Vinje, a lawyer with Clifford Chance LLP who rep­re­sents FairSearch Europe, whose mem­bers in­clude Mi­crosoft Corp., Ex­pe­dia Inc. and Nokia Oyj. "But here, Google re­al­izes it can­not win the ar­gu­ment in a de­bate it does not con­trol."

The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion's pa­tience with the com­pany snapped in April af­ter three set­tle­ment bids failed to sat­isfy crit­ics. EU Com­pe­ti­tion Com­mis­sioner Mar­grethe Vestager fired off a so-called state­ment of ob­jec­tions, or SO, threat­en­ing fines and en­forced changes to the way search re­sults are dis­played. While the Moun­tain View, Cal­i­for­nia-based com­pany's for­mal re­sponse isn't public, Kent Walker, Google's gen­eral coun­sel, sum­ma­rized Thurs­day the writ­ten re­ply in a blog post­ing.

He ridiculed as "pe­cu­liar and prob­lem­atic" de­mands by EU an­titrust reg­ula- tors to change the way it dis­plays search re­sults. Hav­ing made its points in writ­ing, Google prefers to avoid a ver­bal match with EU of­fi­cials at a be­hind-closed-doors hear­ing where its ri­vals would also get a chance to shine. "Dur­ing a hear­ing, things can go both ways -- you can also be grilled even fur­ther," said Ra­mon Tre­mosa i Bal­cells, a Cata­lan Lib­eral mem­ber of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment who has fol­lowed the Google case.

Google has in­formed the com­mis­sion that it is not re­quest­ing a hear­ing, said Ri­cardo Car­doso, a spokesman for the reg­u­la­tor. "It is com­mon for com­pa­nies to ask for an oral hear­ing but it doesn't hap­pen all the time," he said. Google didn't im­medi- ately re­spond to ques­tions about the lack of a hear­ing. More than a decade ago another U.S. tech gi­ant took a dif­fer­ent path to Google. Mi­crosoft re­quested a hear­ing with the EU but that didn't pre­vent the soft­ware com­pany from get­ting a 497 mil­lioneu­ros ($561 mil­lion) penalty. Hear­ings can make a dif­fer­ence. Thir­teen of the world's big­gest banks suc­ceeded at a face-to-face con­fronta­tion last year to un­set­tle an EU case into the credit-de­fault swaps mar­ket. While af­ter a hear­ing the EU would usu­ally move to the penalty stage, of­fi­cials were forced to re-open the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and carry out a re­view of doc­u­ments in the case, peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter said ear­lier this year.

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