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    Washington Post: Google facing force of aggressive E.U. regulators

    The Washington Post reports on investigations by European Union regulators into Internet services giant Google’s practices and policies, including its privacy policies:

    BRUSSELS — Europe may be a financial disaster and a faded military force, but in at least one arena it has emerged as champ: Regulators here are challenging the power of America’s technology titans. And they are winning.

    Google is most squarely in the crosshairs as its officials negotiate furiously in hopes of avoiding a $4 billion fine and a formal ruling that it has abused its dominance in the search market to hurt rivals across a range of industries. A deal could be days away.

    Facebook, Apple and Microsoft also have faced serious scrutiny from European regulators in the past year. And even if Google succeeds in settling the sprawling antitrust case here, it is facing investigations into its new privacy policy and its Android operating system for phones and tablets.

    Many of these issues, including the antitrust case against Google, also have been investigated by American regulators. But the laws here are stricter, the fines bigger and the courts more supportive of aggressive government action — to the point that many experts say the legal landscape of the technology industry is being shaped more profoundly here than in the United States. […]

    Whether Google gets labeled a monopolist is largely in the hands of Joaquin Almunia, a former Spanish labor leader and onetime Socialist candidate for prime minister who is the European Union’s top antitrust enforcer. […]

    Almunia already has determined that the Google antitrust claims merit serious treatment, given that the company has more than 90 percent of the search market in some European countries. But having a monopoly is not a violation of law here; a company must abuse its dominance of a market to run afoul of regulators.

    Almunia’s office has outlined four potential abuses of dominance in preliminary filings. In the interview, he expressed particular concern that Google may be altering its results in a way that keeps users from having access to the best possible services, especially ones that compete with Google’s offerings. […]

    The risk to Google, analysts say, goes beyond the potential for fines because their business long has depended on users believing that search results are crafted primarily to serve their needs — not those of advertisers. A finding of abusive monopolistic behavior threatens to undermine its carefully cultivated public image.

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