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Digital Economy

German minister: 'Google breakup may be required'

German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel has warned that US Internet giant Google could eventually achieve such a strong market position that breaking up the company may become an option. Google was not amused.

While failing to explain how exactly to enforce a breakup of a US-based company, Sigmar Gabriel said Friday such a move could be a last resort for countries seeking to prevent Google from "systematically crowding out competitors."

The German Economy Minister made those remarks in an op-ed published by the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) newspaper, painting an alarming picture of the threat posed to society by Internet companies.

"It's about nothing less than the future of democracy in the digital age and therefore also about the self-determination of 500 million people in Europe," Gabriel commented.

Ongoing probes

The Economics Ministry said Friday it was examining various aspects of Google's business, including the level of the firm's compliance with privacy rules.

A day earlier, some 400 companies, including major German and French publishers, announced they were about to submit new anti-trust complaints against Google.

The US firm has faced massive criticism over its dominant position in Europe where no serious rivals have emerged to challenge its search business. Gabriel's comments reflect a new sense of urgency among European governments and businesses, fearing the continent's own Internet industry may be smothered by American rivals.

Europe's digital economy trails behind

Google itself dismissed that criticism, saying it was surprised "by the opinion of German Economy Minister that companies like Google would harm users, economy and society."

"We have been and are always open for conversations about how to make the most of digitization both for the economy and consumers," the company said in a statement.

hg / rs (dpa, AP)

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