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Expect More Google Attacks as Top EU Regulator Heads Stateside

April 5, 2016, 1:49 PM UTC
European competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager gives a press conference at European Commission headquarters in Brussels on November 20, 2014. AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel Dunand (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
Emmanuel Dunand — AFP/Getty Images

EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager is coming to the United States this week to defend her wide-ranging and seemingly never-ending investigations of the largest U.S. technology companies. But don’t expect much news—ahead of the speeches, Europe’s top competition enforcer has already signaled that she’s going to keep looking deeper into controversial antitrust, tax, and privacy practices at Alphabet’s Google, Apple, Facebook, and others.

Asked by The Wall Street Journal this week about her latest reviews of Google, for example, Vestager would say only that the investigations of possible improper behavior with the Android mobile operating system and famed Adsense service were “advancing.” The Google (GOOG) probe started back in 2010 and through various fits and starts led to formal charges over search engine favoritism last April.

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Discussing an ongoing investigation of the legality of Apple’s (AAPL) Irish tax-reduction strategies, Vestager was similarly noncommittal. “It is very difficult to make predictions as to when the case will be ready for a decision,” she said at a European parliamentary hearing on Monday.

Expect more of the same—plus a healthy dose of denying she has unfairly targeted U.S.-based companies—when she addresses the Women’s Competition Network on Wednesday and then speaks at the American Bar Association’s annual antitrust meeting on Friday. Both gatherings in Washington, D.C., bring together top antitrust lawyers and regulators from around the world, providing a useful platform for Vestager to make her case.

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Vestager’s investigations and critiques of the largest U.S. technology companies, which have also focused on Facebook (FB), Amazon (AMZN), and Qualcomm (QCOM), have drawn considerable criticism from U.S. leaders, including President Barack Obama. “In defense of Google and Facebook, sometimes the European response here is more commercially driven than anything else,” the president noted in February in an interview with Re/code’s Kara Swisher.

But as Vestager heads into hostile territory, she’s unlikely to offer much comfort to her critics.