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EU digital tsar warns monopolists; Google foes play down call for break-up

A Google search page is reflected in sunglasses in this photo illustration taken in Brussels
The European Union’s top official for digital markets said on Monday he was concerned that big tech companies may be abusing dominant positions, but he also said investigations into Google must not be rushed.

As sponsors of a European Parliament motion seeking action to rein in Google played down suggestions the U.S. Internet search firm should be broken up, European Commission Vice President Andrus Ansip told Reuters that he suspected some major companies were abusing their power in the digital market.

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“We have some doubts about misuse of gatekeeper positions and also leading positions in the markets, ” he said in an interview, stressing that he was not citing particular companies nor pre-empting the Commission’s four-year-old antitrust probe into Google, now taken over by his colleague Margrethe Vestager.

“I’m not ready to say that they will have to be broken up, talking about vertically integrated structures, ” he said. “We have to investigate very carefully where those problems are … and then find possible solutions, ” adding that decisions should only be taken after a full public debate.

The drafting last week of a parliamentary resolution urging the Commission to curb Google’s dominance was an early reminder to the new EU executive team, which took office this month, of the strength of public and corporate opinion on the issue.

However, its authors took pains on Monday to play down their suggestion that Google might be broken up, saying that was only one of several options to curb its power. Lawmakers Andreas Schwab, a German conservative, and Ramon Tremosa, a Spanish liberal, issued a statement saying: “Tremosa and Schwab are not ideological against Google! We are against monopolies.

“Unbundling is one of the ideas but we proposed several.”

The main parties in parliament are due to refine a final draft of a motion on Tuesday and expect a debate in Strasbourg on Wednesday before a vote on Thursday, an aide to Tremosa said.

While declining comment on the Google case, Vice President Ansip, a former prime minister of tech-friendly Estonia, made clear he understood some of parliament’s concerns:

“For many small and medium-sized companies, for family businesses, because of those vertically integrated structures it’s impossible to gain visibility, ” he said. “And if you are not able to gain visibility it means you are not able to sell.”

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