The EU fires a warning shot at Google and other Internet giants – Los Angeles Times

Alphabet Inc.’s most successful product — the Google search engine — may now be its most problematic. On Tuesday, the European Commission’s top antitrust regulator levied a $2.7-billion fine against Alphabet and Google for the way the search engine handles requests for information about products.

Specifically, Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said that Google skewed its results to bury links to rival companies’ comparison shopping sites while prominently featuring its own service, Google Shopping. Google responded that it’s simply trying to give users what they want and denied “favoring ourselves, or any particular site or seller.” It has a lot at stake: Google has integrated many different offerings into its search engine, including its mapping and travel services. The principle advanced by Vestager, however, is a good one: Giant online companies should not be able to take advantage of their dominance in one field to hurt competitors in another.

It’s a lesson that Microsoft laid out — involuntarily — for the tech companies that would follow in its wake. The software company built a near monopoly in the market for personal computer operating systems, then integrated a series of unrelated products into its Windows operating system, including a Web browser and a digital media player. Those moves helped destroy what had until then been the leading browser maker while draining market share from the pioneering maker of streaming software, bringing down the wrath of the U.S. Department of Justice in the late 1990s.

Google’s argument echoes the one Microsoft made: It integrated Google Shopping, which offers links to products at sites that advertise on Google, into its search engine because that gave users quicker access to the information they were seeking. And in the United States, the key question in antitrust law is whether a company’s behavior hurts users, not whether it hurts the company’s competitors.

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