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German antitrust regulator opens probe into Google over data use as part of crackdown on Big Tech

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Germany’s antitrust authority has said it is investigating European units of Google and its parent company, Alphabet over potentially anti-competitive practices, following similar action against Amazon and Facebook.

The probe was announced on Tuesday by Germany’s national competition regulator, the Federal Cartel Office.

Explaining the decision, Andreas Mundt, the president of the Federal Cartel Office (Bundeskartellamt), said that Google is made up of an “ecosystem that extends across different markets” – from the Google search engine, YouTube, Google Maps, the Android operating system, and the Chrome browser – and that it is often very difficult for other companies to “challenge this position of power.

The regulator will also undertake an in-depth analysis of Google’s data processing terms, as the company “enjoys a strategic advantage,” and a key question for the regulator is “whether consumers wishing to use Google’s services have sufficient choice as to how Google will use their data.”

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The move follows the application of a new regulation giving the body more power to rein in big tech companies. The 10th amendment to the German Competition Act, which came into force in January, includes a key provision which enables it to intervene “earlier and more effectively” against the practices of large digital companies. 

In a two-step procedure, the Federal Cartel Office can prohibit companies which are of “paramount significance for competition across markets” from engaging in anti-competitive practices.

Google “will cooperate fully with the German competition authority,” Ralf Bremer, a company spokesperson, said, according to Reuters. “People choose Google because it’s helpful, not because they’re forced to, or because they can’t find alternatives,” he added.

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The competition authority also opened an inquiry into online retail giant Amazon earlier this month over potential anti-competitive practices. In a statement at the time, Andreas Mundt said his office was examining whether Amazon has “an almost unchallengeable position of economic power” and whether it “operates across various markets.” A similar probe was launched against social networking giant Facebook in January.

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