Tensions between the European Union and Google never seem to subside, nor are they likely to anytime soon as the former reportedly prepares to issue antitrust charges against the latter as part of a five-year investigation. Early indications are that this could be the most high-profile antitrust case brought on by the EU since it spanked Microsoft with hundreds of millions of dollars in fines for bundling Internet Explorer with Windows.
According to The Wall Street Journal and its numerous unnamed sources, the European Commission is in the process of contacting companies that previously filed complaints against Google on a confidential basis and is asking them for permission to publish some of their grievances. Shopping and travel companies are some that have already been contacted.
The requests can be viewed as a strong indicator that antitrust charges are imminent. If so, this could end up being a bigger battle than the one waged against Microsoft, which tallied $1.8 billion in fines when all was said and done. Alternately, there could be a settlement agreement.
At issue for the EU is Google's position in search (it processes more than 90 percent of search traffic in Europe) and whether or not it's been abusing that position. One of the complaints against Google is that when users comparison-shop, the search giant displays results from Google Shopping up top and pushes products from rival sites to lower on the page.
So, how much is at stake? In a worst case scenario, the EU could rule against Google and fine the firm up to 10 percent of its annual revenue, which was $66 billion last year. A maximum fine based on last year's figures would be $6.6 billion. That's more than a slap on the wrist, though not game changing -- Google posted a profit of $4.76 billion last quarter alone.