LONDON – The U.S. antitrust crackdown on Google might seem like deja vu for European Union regulators.
By U.S. standards, the Justice Department's move to sue Google this week for abusing its dominance in online search and advertising was a bold move. But it treads on ground already broken years before by EU officials in Brussels.
Veterans of Europe's antitrust tech battles welcomed the U.S. investigation and said American authorities should learn from the bloc’s experience.
“We hope U.S. authorities have paid attention to two major drawbacks of the EU investigations: the long-drawn-out process and Google’s tactics to use any loophole to avoid changing its business model,” said BEUC, a European consumer group that was a complainant to one of the EU's Google cases, involving its shopping service.
The EU's competition commissioner, Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager, has slapped Google with multibillion dollar penalties in three separate competition cases in recent years. The eye-popping fines put Vestager at the forefront of the global movement to rein in Big Tech companies.
But critics say - and Vestager has acknowledged - that they haven't done much to change the company's behavior and have taken too long to be enforced. As a result, EU officials in Brussels are weighing up new rules and tools.
U.S. officials indicated in their lawsuit filed Tuesday that they wanted to go beyond EU-style headline-grabbing fines, which Google can easily afford, and mandating deeper changes to company practices. They asked a court to consider structural relief to remedy any competitive harm - language that suggests a possible break-up of the company.
One key takeaway from the EU's experience is that the slow pace of antitrust investigations, lawsuits and enforcement means a company like Google has time to find ways to maintain its dominance. The first fine on Google, for example, was imposed only after seven years of investigations and negotiations.