The European Union is reviving a probe into Google’s advertising practices with an inquiry that adds to active EU antitrust investigations into the company’s mobile operating system and shopping search services.
The EU has been quizzing companies involved in online advertising in recent weeks about Google’s behavior, according to three people with knowledge of the investigation who asked not to be named because the process is confidential. Officials are seeking data that may be used to build a statement of objections listing areas where they suspect Google breaches antitrust rules, they said.
Google’s $1 billion payment to Apple Inc. to keep its search bar on the iPhone is one of the kind of exclusivity agreements regulators are looking at, one of the people said. The EU move rekindles part of a probe they first announced in 2010 into contracts with websites that shut out non-Google advertising services and deals with computer and software vendors that prevent them using other search tools.
The opening of a new front against Google comes as Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai meets with Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager this week.
Vestager said last month she’s ready to investigate Google’s tax deals with the U.K., building on cases she already has on Apple’s tax agreements with Ireland and Amazon.com Inc.’s pacts with Luxembourg. Investigating tax structures that give multinational companies an unfair advantage over smaller rivals is one of her priorities.
Al Verney, a spokesman for Alphabet Inc.’s Google, and European Commission officials in Brussels declined to comment. Tanya Ridd, an Apple spokeswoman in London, didn’t respond to a call and an e-mail.
Most of Google’s $74.5 billion 2015 revenue came from advertising. Its targeted ad service AdWords, which displays promotions alongside query results and web content has been a key driver in helping Google grow its sales.
Vestager’s team at the EU commission is separately working intensively on a statement of objections targeting Google’s Android mobile operating system. That investigation is examining Google’s agreements with smartphone and tablet makers that require them to install Google’s apps on devices. The EU has also looked at Google ad contracts that stopped customers transferring online ad campaign data to rivals.
They are also sifting through vast amounts of data provided by Mountain View, California-based Google in response to formal allegations sent by the EU last year that suspect the company of favoring its own comparison shopping services in search results. In addition, regulators have been looking at similar claims that the company also favors its own maps and travel services over others.