European Parliament Backs Investigation To Split Google Search From Its Other Businesses

A little Thanksgiving message from the European Parliament today: they support the idea of breaking up Google.

While the search giant was not mentioned by name, members voted 384 to 174 (with 56 abstentions) in favor of a set of measures encouraged to drive more tech growth across the European Union.

Among those measures: a resolution to enforce European competition rules against online companies that are deemed to be abusing dominant positions in search. Specifically, “MEPs also call on the Commission ‘to consider proposals with the aim of unbundling search engines from other commercial services’ in the long run.”

Other measures approved today included introducing cloud computing standards and fast-tracking new telecoms rules.

The EU believes that these changes could help the region generate an extra €260 billion annually.

To be very clear, this is not an enforceable vote, in that it doesn’t directly give regulators the mandate to force Google to break up.

What it will mean is that European Commission and state competition authorities now have been given a green light to ask these questions of Google, and potentially lodge antitrust investigations that could result in more enforceable calls for Google to change how it does business in Europe, or potentially break up.

Google, which controls around 90% of the search market in Europe, has its fingers in many pies, from enterprise services through to mapping and more. It is the maker of Android, the operating system that is installed on the majority of smartphones in the region. And its Chrome web browser is also the dominant browser for consumers going online. Many of Google’s services are interconnected and integrated together. For example, you need a Google account to use an Android handset, which is preloaded and defaulted to run on Google’s services.

The part of the resolution approved today that concerns Google has been the subject of much debate this week, and comes as a longer investigation into Google’s dominance in search has been sent back for further investigation after now-former competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia failed to get enough consensus around his original proposals for resolving it, solutions that were deemed not competitive enough, and too easy on Google.

Almunia had rejected calls to look into breaking up Google — an argument that is now up to his successor, Margrethe Vestager, to either also reject, or decide to pursue with today’s mandate.

Today’s statement makes a reference to how central search services are to the wider competitive area online:

The resolution underlines that “the online search market is of particular importance in ensuring competitive conditions within the digital single market” and welcomes the Commission’s pledges to investigate further the search engines’ practices.

It calls on the Commission “to prevent any abuse in the marketing of interlinked services by operators of search engines”, stressing the importance of non-discriminatory online search. “Indexation, evaluation, presentation and ranking by search engines must be unbiased and transparent”, MEPs say.

Given the role of internet search engines in “commercialising secondary exploitation of obtained information” and the need to enforce EU competition rules, MEPs also call on the Commission “to consider proposals with the aim of unbundling search engines from other commercial services” in the long run.