EU antitrust regulators investigate Google's data collection

Google’s Data Collection and Looker Data Sciences Takeover under Investigation

Last edited: December 4, 2019
Reading time: 2 minutes, 55 seconds

Despite record fines and an order to change its business practices, Google is again under investigation on both sides of the Channel for the way it collects and uses data. Saturday Reuters reported that the European Competition Watchdog has started a preliminary investigation into Google’s data collection practices. Yesterday the UK Competition Authority announced it is considering a full investigation in Google’s acquisition of Looker Data Sciences, a powerful data analytics platform.

Preliminary EU Investigation Ongoing

“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”, confirmed the EU watchdog in an email to Reuters.

The questionnaires were sent out to an unknown number of companies and their responses let the regulator know:

  • What data they provide to Google;
  • How they are compensated for this information;
  • And how valuable they consider the data to be.

The EU’s focus is on data collected and used in local search services, online advertising, login services and more. The watchdog also wants to know if Google has ever refused to provide data itself and how this has affected their business.

Billions of Fines Apparently not Enough

These investigations could indicate that there are more regulatory woes to come for Google. As if the world’s most popular internet search engine hasn’t already faced enough scrutiny from competition watchdogs worldwide.

In the last two years alone Google, has been confronted with a € 2.4 billion fine in a Google Shopping case, € 4.3 billion for forcing its browser and search engine on Android phones and a € 1.49 billion fine for abuse of power with its AdSense advertising service.

Earlier this year Margrethe Vestager, the European Commissioner for Competition, said that she fines seemed to have not yet had the desired effect, and that she will move beyond fines in her second term as EU’s Competition Commissioner. Meaning she plans to take an even harder stand against over-dominant tech companies.

Probe into Looker Data Sciences Takeover

In the mean time in the UK, The Competition and Markets Authority invited interested parties to comment on Google’s planned acquisition of Looker Data Sciences. The Phase 1 deadline closes on 20 December, giving said parties less than 3 weeks to respond.

In June Google said: “We’re very excited to announce that Google has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Looker, a unified platform for business intelligence, data applications, and embedded analytics. The acquisition is expected to be complete later this year and is subject to customary closing conditions, including the receipt of regulatory approvals.”

“She hates the US”

Earlier this year, a number of fines imposed on US tech companies drew the attention of President Donald Trump. On route to the G20 summit in Osaka, he lashed out at Margrethe Vestager personally: “She [Margrethe Vestager] hates the United States, perhaps worse than any person I’ve ever met. What she does to our country, she’s suing all our companies.”

Yet, US regulators are also putting tech giants under the microscope. In late August Alphabet, Google’s parent company, received a mandatory request for information from the Justice Department, which also acknowledged that antitrust investigations have been filed by dozens of state attorney generals.

“We continue to cooperate with the DOJ, federal and state regulators in the United States, and other regulators around the world”, Google again confirmed. Regardless of the results of these investigations, users are advised to manage, delete or transfer data collected about them and take charge of their Google privacy settings.

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