Google is facing another EU antitrust probe — this time over its jobs search tool

Key Points
  • The European Commission is conducting a preliminary antitrust investigation into Google's job search tool "Google for Jobs."
  • In a speech Tuesday, EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager drew parallels between Google for Jobs and the company's comparison shopping service, which was the subject of a $2.7 billion antitrust fine in 2017.
  • Rival job search companies sent a letter to Vestager earlier this month urging a formal antitrust investigation.
  • Google said it has made a number of changes to the tool to address "feedback" it has received in Europe.
European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager addresses a news conference in Brussels, April 20, 2016.
Francois Lenoir | Reuters

Google has faced a combined $9.5 billion in antitrust fines from the European Union over the past two years.

Now, yet another EU antitrust case is brewing — this time over its jobs search tool "Google for Jobs."

In a speech Tuesday, EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager drew parallels between Google for Jobs and the company's comparison shopping service, which was the subject of a $2.7 billion EU fine against Google in 2017 for anti-competitive behavior.

"We're looking right now at whether the same thing may have happened with other parts of Google's business – like the job search business known as Google for Jobs," Vestager said.

A European Commission spokesperson confirmed to CNBC a preliminary investigation into Google for Jobs is ongoing but declined to comment on timing or outcome. A preliminary investigation involves gathering information and could, or could not, lead to a formal antitrust probe. Formal EU antitrust investigations can take years to complete and can result in fines of up to 10% of a company's annual revenue.

The EU spokesperson told CNBC that the Commission's antitrust decision on Google in 2017 "gives us a framework to look at other specialized search services, such as Google jobs and local search," but added each service must be examined individually.

At stake is what Vestager calls companies acting as "both player and referee." In the case of Google's jobs search tool, for example, the company could be prioritizing its own jobs listings platform within Google search results.

In a statement, a Google spokesperson said: "Finding a job can be tough, so we worked with jobs providers to create a better experience on Search. Any provider-- from individual employers to job listing platforms-- can use this feature in Search, and many of them have seen a significant increase in the number of job applications they receive. Since launch, we've made a number of changes to address feedback in Europe."

Anti-competitive behavior

Earlier this month, 23 jobs search websites from across Europe signed a letter to Vestager, urging the EU to formally investigate Google for Jobs for anti-competitive behavior. The letter, which was first reported by Reuters, expressed a "collective view that Google abuses its market dominance as a general search service by favouring its own online recruitment service, Google for Jobs, in its general search results pages."

Danish job search company Jobindex was one of the signatories. In an interview with CNBC Tuesday, Jobindex CEO Kaare Danielsen said he was "very concerned" about Google's impact on local recruitment platforms.

"This is a huge competitor," he said. "They have taken market after market."

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The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, has taken a tough stance on Google when it comes to antitrust. In addition to the 2017 fine, Google faced a record-breaking $5.1 billion charge in 2018 for abusing the dominance of its Android mobile operating system. In March, the Commission levied an additional $1.7 billion fine on Google for blocking rivals in the advertising sector.

Google has appealed the fines and has said products like search help deliver fast, easy connections for consumers and businesses. So far, the EU charges have done little to dent the company's bottom line with shares of Google parent company Alphabet gaining more than 25% over the past two years.

Vestager, whose term is set to end in October, also announced a formal antitrust investigation into Amazon in July for its role as a "dual role" as both a merchant and a marketplace.

The U.S. Justice Department is currently conducting its own antitrust review of "market-leading online platforms" like Google, Amazon and Facebook and whether they have reduced competition and harmed consumers.