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Is Google’s search engine dominance hurting EU consumers?

In response to the EU’s charges that Google uses its search engine dominance to favor Google Shopping, the company said shopping results have not harmed the competition nor innovation. Gwen Ifill talks to the European Union’s Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager about Google’s alleged offense and the EU’s crackdown on other tech companies.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    And the European Union's commissioner for competition, Margrethe Vestager, joins me now.

    For the record, we extended an invitation to Google to join this conversation, but they declined.

    Welcome.

  • MARGRETHE VESTAGER:

    Thank you very much.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    What is the offense in a company deciding that they're going to arrange their search engines so that they promote themselves?

  • MARGRETHE VESTAGER:

    Well, then the consumer doesn't necessarily get the best answer to their query.

    Sometimes, it may be the best answer to be presented with Google shopping. But, sometimes, the best answer may be another answer. And what we see is that Google has systematically been favoring its own services and displayed that dominantly in the page when you search on your computer in European countries.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Do other tech companies like Amazon not do that?

  • MARGRETHE VESTAGER:

    Well, they do not hold a 90 percent dominance in the general search market, as we see it in the European markets, and that's a very important difference.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    How is this different from the Microsoft — we mentioned in the setup there the Microsoft, the Intel cases before, some of which have been settled?

  • MARGRETHE VESTAGER:

    Well, it's about a completely different matter, and a lot of water on the beach since then.

    The digital market has developed dramatically in those years, a lot of innovation, and a lot of other consumer choices being made over the years. For me, it's very important to see this as an individual case and not to, you know, think about other cases or precedent, because this is one case, and it has to be, you know, judged by its own facts and its own sort of proofs.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Consumers in America are kind of used to seeing that. They expect that the top four research results are going to favor whoever — whatever search engine they're using, whether it's Yahoo!, whether it's Google.

    Is it different in Europe?

  • MARGRETHE VESTAGER:

    Well, I think that consumers expect Google to present them with the best answer to their query.

    And I think they're very reluctant to accept that the best answer is always the same. And, therefore, of course, we state our preliminary view, saying, well, this is how we see it, and now we expect Google to answer within 10 weeks or — and/or to call an oral hearing, where they can present their case, and where, also, the complainants, of which there is quite a number, can tell how they see the case.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Google, of course, has already responded in part. Part of their defense is, well, the industry has changed. Competition has changed, and, more important, the technology has changed. Even though we may dominate the market in Europe, people can still — it's their choice. They can still go somewhere else if they want to get a different kind of result.

  • MARGRETHE VESTAGER:

    Yes.

    And, of course, you can go somewhere else. You can find other search engines, but Google holds a very dominant position. And if you do that, well, you shouldn't sort of misuse or abuse the powers that you have. Of course, I think it's obvious you should congratulate Google for being successful and innovative, and helping us all quite a lot, but, for me, the congratulations stops when you see that a dominant position it being used in a neighboring market, where you're not dominant, to — sort of to help yourself to a better position, but not on the merits of competition.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    I know you said that all these cases are different, but Microsoft in the end paid billions of dollars in fines and it took themselves years and years. Intel is still appealing and still in a struggle against the European Commission on this.

    What — how do these kinds of complaints, these charges that you're bringing, change corporate behavior? Do they make things better, or are Microsoft and Intel, for instance, doing what they had always done?

  • MARGRETHE VESTAGER:

    Well, I think that it's very important. There are thousands and thousands and thousands of businesses who compete on the merits, who present their products to the customers, and who, of course, expect competition on the merits, that the game is not rigged in one way or another.

    And I think consumers expect of us that we enforce the law that enables choice and affordable prices and innovation to take place. And, therefore, I think that the case, this is very important to keep everyone sort of straight focusing on consumers and on innovation.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    You said also yesterday that you're going to be looking at the mobile system, the mobile operating system, Android system, which operators like Samsung use.

    How is that different for an operator to use something that somebody else produced to allow people that they can — if you have an Android phone, if you have a Samsung phone, you can use other operating systems, can't you?

  • MARGRETHE VESTAGER:

    Well, these are very early days.

    What we are saying by saying that now we have formally opened an in-depth investigation is also to tell them that, now it's in the open. People can come forward if they have information for us, and it's a high priority. We have put resources into this, also, in order to finalize it relatively quick.

    But, of course, we worry if we hear that those who manufacture our tablets, our smartphones are being very strongly sort of incentivized to use one certain system, which would be Android, followed by Google's suites of products.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Well, we will be watching it all very carefully.

    Margrethe, Margrethe Vestager, European Union competition commissioner, thank you very much.

  • MARGRETHE VESTAGER:

    Thank you. It was a pleasure to be here. Thank you.

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