Why Is Google in Such Big Trouble in the EU?

Like other U.S. high-tech titans, Google Inc. is learning that doing business in Europe is no vacation. The European Union's antitrust chief on Wednesday accused Google of abusing its search engine dominance to favor its own comparison shopping services over those of its competitors -- the first-ever formal antitrust action by any government against the Silicon Valley giant. Regulators there also launched a separate investigation into whether Google improperly leveraged its widely used Android mobile operating system to hinder the development of rival software and products.

The case highlights the difficulties large U.S. firms have in operating in countries where regulations designed to promote competition have a different focus than in the U.S.

Antitrust investigations are just part of the problems tech companies face. China, for instance, has blocked Google over censorship issues. And Europeans have raised serious privacy concerns, heightened by the revelations of widespread high-tech spying by U.S. intelligence agencies.

"It's increasingly a problem for multinational corporations dealing with very different antitrust regimes around the world that try to protect competitors rather than consumers," said David Balto, a former policy director at the Federal Trade Commission.

President Obama has raised concerns about protectionism.

"In defense of Google and Facebook, sometimes the European response here is more commercially driven than anything else," he said in a February interview with Re/code. "Their service providers who can't compete with ours are essentially trying to set up some roadblocks for our companies to operate effectively there."

But Margrethe Vestager, the European competition commissioner, dismissed such suggestions Wednesday.

"Dominant companies have a responsibility not to abuse their powerful market positions by restricting competition either in the market where they are dominant or in neighboring markets," she said.

"This has nothing to do with a company being European, American, Russian, Chinese or whatever," she said. "If you want to compete in the European...

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