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Google faces new group in Europe designed to hit it with lawsuits

A new online platform created by a law firm and public affairs company aims to help victims eager to sue Google over antitrust issues in Europe.

Google is up against a new challenge in its antitrust battles in Europe.

CNET

Watch out Google. There's a new group in Europe gunning for you.

Global law firm Hausfeld and public affairs company Avisa announced on Tuesday that they have created an online platform called GRIP, or Google Redress & Integrity Platform. The goal behind the platform is to assist businesses that believe they've been hurt by Google's alleged anticompetitive behavior in Europe and are seeking legal action against the search giant.

The creation of this new platform is just the latest smack against Google in Europe. The company is currently facing accusations from the European Commission that it stacks the search market deck for online shopping and other services to favor its own offerings, thereby hurting rival companies. If Google is found guilty of violating European antitrust laws, the company could be fined billions of dollars in damages. The European Commission has fined other companies such as Microsoft and Intel, and Google has been at the center of various investigations for years.

On its end, Google continues to protest its innocence. On August 27, Google General Counsel Kent Walker asserted that its dominant search engine doesn't hurt competition in Europe but actually helps it. Walker said that "Google increases choice for European consumers and offers valuable opportunities for businesses of all sizes," contending that the EC is not taking into account the growth of rival e-commerce services such as Amazon and eBay.

So far Google has managed to escape major financial damage in Europe by offering concessions to the EC, promising to change its ways. But the Commission typically finds the concessions inadequate, leading to a request for Google to revise them, thereby putting off any final decision. This back-and-forth game has raised complaints from Google rivals demanding that action be taken against the company.

Lawyers and industry executives expect European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager to rule on Google's antitrust probe late this year or early next year, The New York Times reported. In the meantime, the EC's latest action is a "statement of objections" sent to Google on April 15. The statement paves the way for potentially huge fines if the search giant is found guilty of antitrust laws.

GRIP is eager to use information from the EC's investigation to further its cause. In a press release, the platform's founders said they can build on the statement of objections to access the viability of claims against Google. Where evidence can be established, Hausfeld can represent victims seeking damage.

"It has been five years between the first complaint against Google and the EC's statement of objections, which is about three times longer than the groundbreaking Microsoft case," Avisa Partners founder Jacques Lafitte said in a statement. "Google's President, lawyers and publicists have worked well to create this delay. But Google has not been able to stop the inevitable: it finally faces justice."

Both Avisa and Hausfeld have a history of helping clients duel with Google. Avisa has been aiding 1plusV, a French Internet search firm and one of the companies whose complaint triggered the EC's probe into Google. Hausfeld represented UK vertical search technology firm Foundem, the original complainant in the EC's Google investigation.

GRIP also sees itself as an ally in the EC's public investigation into Google's practices.

"Over the recent years there has been a shift in the public enforcement culture across the EU, with the EC recognizing that private damages actions bolster not only the deterrent effect of fines and penalties imposed by the public authorities, but also correct the illegal conduct of market players," GRIP said in a statement. "Furthermore, private enforcement restores fairness in the market by re-establishing competitors and, in turn, stimulating competition. GRIP will play a key role in spearheading functions of private enforcement and thus increasing consumer confidence to take action."