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Google head, EU officials to discuss antitrust issues

Google head, EU officials to discuss antitrust issues

OSLO: Google CEO Sundar Pichai is to meet with EU Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager in Brussels this week, a source familiar with the matter said on Saturday.

European competition officials have been investigating the US tech giant for years over alleged monopolistic practices involving its search engines, but any resolution has been elusive. Three successive proposals by Google for an amicable settlement have been rejected.

Vestager last year sent a “statement of objections,” which said Google had diverted traffic from rival price-comparison services like Kelkoo, which operates in several European countries, to favor its own comparison shopping service.

Google responded in August last year that Brussels’s findings were wrong and based on a flawed evaluation of the market.

If no agreement is reached and the group is found to have broken the EU’s antitrust rules, it could face fines amounting to billions of US dollars.

In addition to the initial inquiry into Google’s search engines, which began in November 2010, the European competition service opened a second one in April last year to examine the group’s Android mobile operating system. This software, used by a wide range of brands, is installed in more than 80 percent of the world’s smartphones.

Vestager might also scrutinize Google’s back-tax deal with British tax authorities following a complaint from the Scottish National Party. Google last month agreed to pay £130 million (US$187.3 million) to settle tax claims covering a 10-year period, but opposition parties have called the amount derisory.

Pichai became Google’s CEO during a restructuring last year that installed a new holding company, Alphabet Inc, as Google’s parent.

Google now focuses on its core businesses — online activity, Android, YouTube — while its peripheral interests, such as driverless cars, are overseen directly by Alphabet.

The sources described Pichai’s visit as an introductory meeting. He is scheduled to be in Brussels on Thursday, where he is to meet with Vestager, as well as EU Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Gunther Oettinger and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Topics to be discussed include the digital single market, as well as digital skills and jobs.

European Commission spokesman Ricardo Cardoso declined to comment.

Pichai is to be in Barcelona, Spain, today and tomorrow for the Mobile World Congress and in Paris on Wednesday to meet with publishers.

Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt met Vestager in March last year, but failed to appease her.