Google Said to Face Investigation Into Ad Services by EU

Probe Could Hurt Revenue More Than Previous Two Antitrust Complaints

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The European Union is taking steps that could lead to a third antitrust complaint against Google, this time over its lucrative advertising services, according to three people familiar with the EU investigation.

EU officials sent the search giant's critics requests to allow their evidence to be shared with Google, said the people, who asked not to be named because the case is private. One request was sent as recently as last week, one person said. Such a move is typically a precursor to a formal EU statement of objections cataloging how a firm may have violated EU antitrust law.

The investigation targeting advertising could affect Google's revenue stream more than either of the other two probes. Google's AdWords, which displays promotions alongside query results and web content, has been a key driver in helping Alphabet's Google grow its sales. Most of Google's $74.5 billion 2015 revenue came from advertising.

First announced more than five years ago, the probe has targeted contracts with websites that shut out non-Google advertising services and deals with computer and software vendors that prevent them from using other search tools. Google in 2013 offered to drop clauses in its AdSense for search contracts that required websites to accept the company's ads when they put a Google search box on a page.

Google and the European Commission declined to comment. Politico reported on the requests earlier Monday.

Margrethe Vestager, the EU's competition commissioner, said last month that she hoped the investigation into Google's AdWords advertising service could conclude "within a reasonable timeframe."

Google is already fighting two other investigations that the EU has escalated since Ms. Vestager took over as EU antitrust chief in late 2014. It was charged last year with unfairly promoting its own services over rivals in shopping search services. In April, it got a formal complaint over its Android mobile operating system that it must still answer by the end of the summer.

In the two other cases, the commission moved swiftly toward sending a statement of objections after sending requests to de-classify antitrust evidence.

-- Bloomberg News

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