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Europe Steps Up Attacks Against Google


And in Europe, Google is under increasing attack. A consortium of European digital companies has brought charges against the American Internet search giant for behaving like a monopoly. A ruling by the European Court of Justice could force Google to remove certain Web links from its search engine.

NPR's Eleanor Beardsley sends this report from Paris.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (French spoken)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: That's the French industry ministry addressing a gathering of 400 leading French and German online companies last week. They've formed an association called the Open Internet Project and they want Google to stop what they say are abusive practices. German entrepreneur Robert Maier is head of Visual Meta, a worldwide shopping comparison site.

He says traffic to his site drops by as much as 70 percent whenever Google rejigs its search algorithms.

ROBERT MAIER: Google targets specific types of websites, like aggregators who have the offers of various online shops on their website and demotes them, shows them lower in the search and the result pages, so users so don't find the website anymore.

BEARDSLEY: Stephan Lutje, a lawyer for the Open Internet Project, is not a fan of Google's either. He says the group just launched and anti-trust lawsuit against Google with the EU's lawmaking body, the European Commission.

STEPHAN LUTJE: Google is, depending on which country you look at in Europe, up to 96, 97 percent market share. It is a monopoly.

BEARDSLEY: But not all agree that Google's domination of Web searches is a bad thing. Frederic Fillou, who heads digital operations with French financial newspaper Les Echos, says that suit is misguided.

FREDERIC FILLOU: The press is benefiting quite a bit from Google. Google is spending a lot of traffic - 30, 40, sometimes 60 percent of their traffic is coming from Google. And a lot of media spend a great deal of money to actually create their own dependence on Google.

BEARDSLEY: Additionally, Feeyoo says Google has given 60 million euros as part of a three-year partnership with the French press to help it transition to the digital age. Another development in Europe last week that will effect Google is the European court of Justice's decision that individuals have the right to be forgotten. The case came to court after a Spanish man argued that an auction listing for his repossessed home years earlier was damaging to his reputation.

Google said making information disappear will be logistically complicated, not least because of the many languages involved. Google's former CEO, Eric Schmidt, called the ruling unbalanced because the right to be forgotten had won out over the right to know. Isabel Falque-Pierrotin, chairman of the French Data Protection Authority, says the decision reflects Europeans' attachment to their privacy.

ISABEL FALQUE-PIERROTIN: In Europe we consider personal data of course also had an economic good, that also as a fundamental right.

BEARDSLEY: Falque-Pierrotin says requests will be examined on a case by case basis and she does not believe the court will be overwhelmed with demands. Back at the Open Internet Project conference, e-commerce entrepreneur Robert Maier says he thinks the court's decision was the right one because it's in line with European values.

MAIER: Look at what the right in Germany is. If somebody did something illegal, if somebody went bankrupt, they always try to reintegrate them into society after they have been punished or whatever. And if even 20 years after something happens, somebody can enter the name into a search engine and the first thing that pops up is that you went bankrupt or that you did a crime or whatever, you will never ever be able to recover.

BEARDSLEY: I'm at the gigantic glass-fronted European headquarters of Microsoft just outside of Paris. Not so long ago, this American company was in the crosshairs of European competition authorities accused of monopolistic abuses with its Windows operating system. After a long and expensive legal battle, Microsoft was forced to make changes to the way it operated and sold its software in Europe. Now many Europeans want their regulators to take on Google. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.