The European Union has filed a complaint against Google over its alleged anti competitive behaviour.
It follows a five year investigation into the company and marks the start of a formal legal process that could ultimately lead to billions of euros of fines.
Google accounts for more than a 90% of EU based web searches.
The European Commission has investigated the antitrust allegations – made by Microsoft, Tripadvisor, Streetmap and others – since 2010.
Among their complaints was an objection to Google placing adverts from its Shopping service ahead of others’ links in relevant searches.
The EU has objected to the way Google promotes results from its own shopping service
Ms Vestager said the Commission’s preliminary findings supported the claim that Google “systematically” gave prominence to its own ads, which amounted to an abuse of its dominant position in search.
“I’m concerned that Google has artificially boosted its presence in the comparison shopping market with the result that consumers may not necessarily see what’s most relevant for them, or that competitors may not get the the commercial opportunity that their innovative services deserve,” she told a press conference in Brussels.
Ms Vestager said that she was not seeking a wider redesign of Google’s search results or asking it to change its algorithms. But she added that the case could set a precedent that would determine how the EU handled other complaints about Google favouring its own mapping, hotels and flights services.
Many of Google’s rivals welcomed the EU’s action.
“Google’s abuse of dominance distorts European markets, harms consumers, and makes it impossible for Google’s rivals to compete on a level playing field,” said lobbying group Icomp.
“We see this statement of objection as a crucial first step towards ensuring that European consumers have access to vibrant and competitive online markets.”
The EU has also launched a separate investigation into Google’s Android operating system, used by smartphones and tablets, which will focus on three topics:
- claims that Google requires or incentivises manufacturers to pre-install its own search engine, apps and other services and exclude rival products;
- allegations that Google unfairly insists its services are bundled, meaning some cannot be pre-installed without including the others;
- complaints that the firm is hindering manufacturers from developing alternative versions of Android, which is open source. These are commonly known as “forks”, with Amazon’s Fire OS and Xiaomi’s Mi being two examples
Google could ultimately face huge fines and be ordered to reshape its business in Europe because of the shopping complaint.
In recent years, the Commission has imposed antitrust penalties on other tech giants, ordering Intel to pay £793 million in 2009, and Microsoft £620 million in 2013.