EU investigates whether Google banished competitors from search

Google's search algorithm is coming under scrutiny by the European Commission after other search engines complained they're being unfairly axed from its results.

The European Commission has taken a break from marking malformed bananas and attacking the pint to take Google to task for allegedly messing with its search results. Google is accused of hobbling other search engines by lowering the ranking of results from their sites and making it more expensive for them to buy Google AdWords.

The EC will "investigate whether Google has abused a dominant market position," said the Commission in a statement.

The investigation follows complaints earlier this year from Foundem, a British price comparison site, eJustice, a French site for les lawyers, and Microsoft's Ciao! shopping site.

Google isn't "doing anything to choke off competition or hurt our users and partners," insisted the search behemoth in its policy blog back in February. It also suggested that Ciao! went sour on Google only after it was bought by Microsoft in 2008, when it started running to regulators in Germany and Brussels.

Google met the news of the investigation with a shrug, saying it provides enough information for sites to improve their search rankings without allowing them to "game our system".

"Not every website can come out on top," wrote Google today, "so there will almost always be website owners who are unhappy about their rankings."

Google's search algorithm is a notoriously dark art, which is being constantly tweaked in the arms race between webmasters who dream of dominating the front page, and the search engine's bid for balanced results that will keep Googlers coming back.

The question is whether recent changes to the algorithm, which down-ranked sites that contain content pulled mostly from other sites, specifically challenged search engines in a bid to quash competition.

Google is also alleged to have forced sites that carry its ads not to show certain types of competing ads, and not making its advertising campaign data portable to other ad networks.

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