Google Maps investigated by the German Competition Authority
Germany's Competition Authority, the Bundeskartellamt, announced that it has opened an investigation into Google to determine whether the company is abusing its dominance in the market for online mapping services by restricting competitors from integrating their services with Google Maps. The investigation represents another link in a long line of investigations launched by the Bundeskartellamt based on Section 19A of Germany's Competition Act. The relevant section was introduced in January 2021 and takes a stricter approach towards companies deemed to have "paramount significance" for competition across markets. In this context, the Google Maps investigation is the third such investigation launched against Google, and there are also similar on-going investigations against Meta and Apple.
A wave of bid-rigging cases around the globe
- South Korea's Fair Trade Commission, the KFTC, fined six logistics companies for colluding in tenders regarding cargo-handling services at two ports for South Korea's largest steel-making company. The KFTC determined that these companies decided amongst each other to maintain their relevant volumes and, in turn, agreed on which company would win specific bids.
- In another case concerning the steel market, the Bundeskartellamt fined steelmaker Dillinger Hütte and Hochtief Solutions, a construction company, for rigging bids between 2010–2014 with another construction company that has since been liquidated. The case has been noted as the first time both a contractor and a contractee have been fined for bid rigging in Germany.
- Another similar case appeared in Ecuador, where the Superintendency for the Control of Market Power fined a contractor and contractee for bid rigging. Ecuador's competition authority found that during 2011–2016, Odebrecht (now known as Novonor) and state-owned electricity distributor Celec colluded on bids for the construction of the Manduriacu Hydroelectric power plant in Ecuador and the repair of a tunnel at the Pucará Hydroelectric Plant in Peru. It was found that Odebrecht bribed government officials to ensure that it won the relevant tenders.
Another hub-and-spoke case in Portugal
The Portuguese Competition Authority has been busy for some time now with hub-and-spoke cases, following their probe of hub-and-spoke agreements in the retail sector. In their most recent decision—and the eighth such infringement decision thus far—the authority fined supermarket chains Modelo Continente, Pingo Doce and Auchan, cosmetics manufacturer Beiersdorf (producer of brands such as Nivea, La Prairie, and Hansaplast) and one of its managers a total of EUR 19.4 million. The authority concluded that the supermarket chains worked together between 2011–2017 to fix the prices of several cosmetics products through their common supplier.
Amendments to China's anti-monopoly law
In June, China amended its anti-monopoly law—the first major legislative update since its adoption in 2008. The amendments specifically reference anti-competitive behaviour through the use of data, algorithms and technology. Resale price maintenance is no longer considered a "per se" infringement, and the new law explicitly introduces an "effects" test. Alongside significant changes in penalties, such as that the maximum fine can be multiplied by two to five times in serious cases (which may result in a fine exceeding 10% of the company's turnover), the new legislation has also introduced personal liability at the management level for personnel involved in anti-monopoly infringements. The amendments also change the merger control regime in China. The amended law will come into effect in August 2022, and amendments to six substantive guidelines are also expected in the near term.
Saudi Arabia issues merger block based on concerns due to vertical relations
Saudi Arabia's antitrust enforcer has prohibited the proposed acquisition by LPG wholesale distributor National Gas and Industrialization Co. (GASCO) of gas retailer Best Gas Carrier from its sole shareholder. The decision marks the first deal blocked in Saudi Arabia based on substantive competition concerns, as GASCO's monopoly position could result in raised fees or a reduction in the quality of its products and services to Best Gas Carrier's competitors, which may eventually reduce competition at the retail level and harm consumer welfare.
Google's commitments regarding publishers and press agencies accepted by the French authority
In other Google-related news, after a long back-and-forth as well as market tests, France's competition watchdog, the Autorité de la concurrence, has accepted Google's commitments concerning its investigation of negotiations with and compensation to publishers. The authority found that Google has been using "snippets" of news articles and other content on its services for which it has refused to fairly negotiate with publishers for payment. After interim measures imposed by the authority forcing Google to negotiate an acceptable fee to pay news publishers for displaying their content, Google began proposing commitment packages. The fifth such package, which includes commitments to all publishers covered by France's Intellectual Property Code and Google agreeing to give up its right to appeal the EUR 500 million fine, was accepted by the French authority.
Labour market under the microscope in the Americas
The Attorney General of the US state of Illinois has accused Vee Pak, a health and beauty product manufacturer, of illegal hub-and-spoke non-poaching collusion involving six temporary staffing companies. Antitrust authorities in South America are also focusing on collusion in the labour market.
Tata Steel/ThyssenKrupp deal block upheld
The EU's General Court has ruled that the European Commission is not bound by any single test to define a relevant market and, accordingly, upheld the Commission's 2019 decision blocking the creation of a joint venture between Tata Steel and ThyssenKrupp.
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