EU Antitrust Regulators Seek Details on Google’s Data Practices: Report

By Bowen Xiao
Bowen Xiao
Bowen Xiao
Bowen Xiao is a New York-based reporter at The Epoch Times. He covers national security, human trafficking and U.S. politics.
December 1, 2019 Updated: December 1, 2019

Google’s data collection practices are currently being investigated by European Union antitrust regulators, a sign that the tech giant remains in the crosshairs even after several billion-dollar fines against Google by the EU.

The European Commission is now looking for information on how Google, whose parent company is Alphabet, is using and monetizing the data it collects. The latest revelation points to how authorities across the world are increasingly reviewing these tech companies and how they use their dominance.

“The Commission has sent out questionnaires as part of a preliminary investigation into Google’s practices relating to Google’s collection and use of data. The preliminary investigation is ongoing,” an EU regulator told Reuters in an email.

Several companies that received the questionnaires from the commission are being given a month to reply.

News of the EU probe comes as big tech companies FacebookGoogle, Amazon, and Apple face a historic wave of increased scrutiny, with antitrust investigations begun at both the state and federal levels by the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission.

Congress is also investigating the four companies, with a final report on its antitrust probe from a subcommittee of the House’s Judiciary Committee expected to be completed by the “first part” of 2020.

Documents obtained by Reuters show that the focus of the EU probe is on Google’s data related to local search services, online advertising, online ad targeting services, login services, web browsers, and others.

Companies were asked about agreements providing data to Google or allowing it to collect data via their services in recent years, and whether they were compensated. It’s unclear which companies are involved.

Regulators also want to know the kind of data sought by Google, how it uses it, and how valuable the companies consider such data to be. Another question asked was whether Google and the companies are subjected to contractual terms that prohibit or limit the use of the data.

At the state level, Google is being investigated by a partnership of 48 U.S. states along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, over the company’s practices. Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said in September that the sheer number of attorneys general involved sends a “strong message to Google.”

New York attorney Barry Barnett, who has expertise in antitrust law, told The Epoch Times previously that Congress and its request for documents appeared to focus on acquisition and potential abuses of market power, rather than on agreements among competitors.

Major technology companies, once lauded as engines of economic growth, have increasingly been on the defensive because of their outsized market influence and complaints about their monopoly. Politicians, including President Donald Trump, as well as consumers, firms, and regulators, have criticized that power.

While a spokesperson for Google didn’t immediately respond to a request from The Epoch Times into the EU probe, the company told Reuters in an email, “We use data to make our services more useful and to show relevant advertising, and we give people the controls to manage, delete, or transfer their data.

“We will continue to engage with the Commission and others on this important discussion for our industry.”

Dr. Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, told The Epoch Times in a previous interview that Google’s power needs to be curtailed in three main areas: surveillance, censorship, and manipulation.

Epstein has discovered a dozen methods that Google uses to sway public opinion or votes, including the search engine manipulation effect and search suggestion effect. 

Epstein said he has spoken to various attorneys general about those issues, but he wasn’t sure if they had the authority. He said said Congress, the Justice Department, and the Federal Trade Commission could take much more concrete action.

Reuters contributed to this report

Bowen Xiao
Bowen Xiao
Bowen Xiao is a New York-based reporter at The Epoch Times. He covers national security, human trafficking and U.S. politics.