Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) makes gobs of money (that is an actual technical term for a lot of money – we looked it up) in its search engine, which dominates the world market – though it has competition in individual countries, like China’s Baidu.com , Inc. (ADR) (NASDAQ:BIDU) and Russia’s Yandex NV (NASDAQ:YNDX) – and has faced and paid its share of fines for various violations. No fine has really crippled this juggernaut, which continues to be at the top of the market in many segments in which it has a foothold.
In the European Union, where Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) has been a headache for three years with the European Commission in an antitrust investigation into its search-engine model, patience is running thin and it seems fairly certain at this point that Google could be facing another fine, though this one may actually hurt because estimates say it could be into the 10-figure range (about $1 billion has been talked about). But could the EU impose another sanction that might be even more punitive, or one that is in addition to the fine?
EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia at least hinted at the possibility of such a move this week when he spoke in Madrid. As the antitrust probe into Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) and its search engine winds down to a final decision and resolution, Almunia seemed to express some impatience with the process and frustration with Google’s attempts to rectify the issues that were brought up in the investigation. He said, “Depending on Google’s response and the market test I have to decide whether we reach an accord. Working with the hypothesis that it’s possible to reach a deal, it will probably be reached by the end of this year.”
Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) had forwarded a list of proposed fixes to its search engine, which were supposed to address the concerns that Google was rigging its algorithm solely to favor its own properties and those of partner websites above rivals and competitors, not basing the results on actual relevance to the search query. The recommended changes were submitted in April, and they have been market tested since, to mostly negative feedback, including that from Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT).
Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) – and investors like fund manager Julian Robertson, whose portfolio includes $27 million in Google stock as of March – could be just waiting for the fine to come before making any serious efforts to change its model, but what if the EU does something additional or in lieu of a fine?