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Google confirms European antitrust action, says it has "a very strong case"

Google confirms European antitrust action, says it has "a very strong case"

Europe's top antitrust chief is said to be ready to file formal charges against Google

Google said European antitrust regulators will issue Wednesday a 'statement of objections' on its display and ranking of certain search results, particularly of shopping, but said it had "a very strong case."

A statement of objections is a formal step in the European Commission's investigations into antitrust business practices, and can lead to bans on specific practices and fines.

The regulators are expected to charge the company Wednesday with abusing its dominant position in Internet search in Europe, advancing a five-year investigation, according to news reports.

In an internal memo obtained by Re/code and TechCrunch, the company told 'Googlers' that it believes the Commission will also open Wednesday a formal investigation into its Android operating system, but this will not necessarily lead to action against the company. It cited the opening and closing of an inquiry into Apple's iTunes a few years ago.

Google told employees that competition to the company is "just one click away," and it has "good arguments when it comes to better services for users and increased competition."

The company has competition from players like Bing, Yahoo, Quora, DuckDuckGo, and a new wave of search assistants like Apple's Siri and Microsoft's Cortana, besides specialized services like Amazon, Idealo, Le Guide, Expedia and eBay, according to the memo. Users are also turning to Facebook, Twitter and other social networks for news and suggestions such as tips on eateries and movies.

Mobile apps are also providing competition to the company, with seven out of every eight minutes on mobile devices spent within apps, the company said.

Google also argued that Android provides customers a lot of choice. Apps that compete directly with Google such as Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft Office and Expedia are easily available to Android users, and even come preloaded in some devices like the Samsung Galaxy S6.

"We paid out over $7 billion in revenue over the past year to developers and content publishers," Google said in the memo.

The company said the statement of objections to be filed by the European Commission is not a final finding but a set of preliminary arguments to which the company can respond.

The probe into Google started in 2010, following complaints that it favored its own services in search results, with a consequent reduction in the visibility of results for competing sites. Google tried to settle many times, and in February last year promised to give equal prominence to rival services. But that deal was shot down by many companies including Foundem, which offers a vertical search engine for various market categories, and filed the first complaint against Google in 2009.

Google could face fines of up to US$6 billion, or 10 percent of its annual worldwide revenue.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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