European Parliament to call for breakup of Google, report says

The Internet giant faces yet another tussle with European officials, who want Google to split off its search business.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
3 min read

The European Parliament will reportedly call for a separation of Google's search business from the rest of the company. Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

The European Parliament is getting ready to call for a breakup of Google, according to a report (subscription) Friday by the Financial Times.

A draft motion cited by the FT suggests the separation, or "unbundling," of the Internet giant's search engine from its other services, as one way to challenge Google's dominance. The resolution has the support of Europe's two main political parties, the European People's Party and the Socialists, the FT said.

The European Commission did not immediately reply to a request for comment and Google hasn't made any public comments.

"It's unprecedented," said David Balto, a Washington, D.C.-based antitrust attorney and former policy director at the US Federal Trade Commission. He added that he couldn't think of any other example where a governing body got in the middle of a competition case, like the European Parliament is said to be here.

The matter underscores worry over Google's expansive reach and the search giant's potential to abuse its influence to hurt competitors. The European Parliament has no formal power to break up companies, but the move puts increased pressure on the European Commission, which sets the EU's legislative agenda, to act.

Google isn't the only tech giant to face heat over antitrust concerns. Microsoft in the '90s squared off with US regulators over whether it could bundle its Internet Explorer Web browser with its Windows operating system. Ultimately, the US government chose not to force a split of Microsoft's business.

So far, it's unclear if European regulators will take a similar tack. The European Commission has for four years investigated allegations that Google favored its own products and services over those of competitors in search results. Under the originally proposed settlement, Google in February agreed to display search results for its own services in the same way as those for rival companies, but did not have to pay a fine or change its corporate structure.

"If the European Commission wanted to see the structural break up of Google, it would have done that," Balto, the attorney, said. "It hasn't for good reason."

The deal came under intense scrutiny, leading the Commission to ask Google to revise its proposal. Meanwhile, critics of the original deal have spoken out from across industries and around the globe, including from European politicians, competitors like Microsoft, and French and German media companies.

The agreement has not yet been finalized. The decision will be made by incoming competition chief Margrethe Vestager. She has indicated she would listen to all complainants before deciding how the investigation would proceed, according to the FT.

The company may also face scrutiny by European regulators over business practices related to Android, the most popular mobile operating system in the world. The probe would examine whether or not Android's dominance, with around 80 percent market share of smartphones, unfairly spreads the use of Google services over those of rivals. Google has also been criticized for its implementation of the EU's "Right to be forgotten" ruling, where people can request the company remove links about them in search results.

A vote in Parliament is expected Thursday, according to the FT.