Europe's competition chief admitted that she failed to restore competition between Silicon Valley giants and smaller rivals, despite hitting US tech companies with repeated fines of billions of dollars.
In a broad interview at the beginning of her second term as European competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager acknowledged that the required reforms from companies like Google "don't necessarily change anything" because companies "have already conquered the market."
She questioned the effectiveness of future changes to Google's mobile operating system, saying it "wasn't holding its breath."
Margrethe Vestager has distributed several fines, but they are not having the desired impact.
Vestager fined Google a record 4.3 billion euros in July 2018 for using Android to "illegally cement its dominant position" in the search and forced it to make changes to restore market competition.
But while Vestager said Google would introduce a "preferences menu" offering users a variety of different browsers in the new year, she admitted she wasn't sure if it would work.
"One of Google's very impressive skills as a company is its ability to make people make choices," she told Sky News.
Asked if she meant that Google would direct users to her own products, she replied, "That's why it will be very interesting to see what this different options menu will look like – how would it really work?"
Vestager is starting a second term as European Competition Commissioner, with an expanded role that has labeled her "the most powerful regulator of major technologies on the planet."
In her first term, she imposed a record penalty on Google and forced Amazon and Apple to pay huge amounts of unpaid taxes, sparking the wrath of US President Donald Trump, who said he "should hate the US."
Apple was forced to pay huge amounts in unpaid taxes
Although she said she had been able to prevent companies from violating European competition law and punishing past misconduct, she acknowledged that "the recovery of markets" was a "work in progress".
This included two main cases against Google, the company that took Ms. Vestager's toughest actions (Google appealed both trials and the Android verdict).
In 2016, Vestager warned Google to stop restricting third-party rivals on its AdSense advertising platform, subsequently fining the company 1.49 billion euros in March 2019 for illegal actions "for over 10 years".
However, while she said Google had stopped restricting rivals, Vestager acknowledged that commercially "nothing has changed", with Google still dominating the market in search advertising.
"This is a very sad example," she said, showing that even if a company has allowed competition, "it doesn't necessarily change anything in the market because it has (already) conquered the market."
Also in 2016, Vestager fined Google 2.42 billion euros ($ 2.1 billion) for promoting its Google Shopping product advertising system ahead of rivals and demoting its sites in search results.
Amazon maker Alexa is also targeted by Vestager
Three years later, she said the changes that required Google to make "gave rivals more visibility and more clicks for rival traders, but very little traffic for rivals."
She added, "We will continue to monitor this to see what should happen next."
Faced with the difficulty of restoring competition in markets that were now dominated by monopolies, Vestager said he was investigating reforms to modernize competition regulation in the digital age.
Saying it wanted to "prevent inflection points from happening because otherwise market repair becomes too difficult," she suggested monitoring more closely large companies, checking what she called "a de facto (regulating) private regulator." the rules for this market ".
But she turned away from the impending changes in the rules, saying "we made no decision whatsoever. We opened a debate on that."
Vestager's comments were met with frustration by complainants in the case against Google Shopping, who last year wrote an open letter asking her to take tougher action against Google.
Google did not respond to a comment request
"Google's changes are just a waste of time," said Shivaun Raff, co-founder of Foundem, the comparison shopping service that filed a lawsuit against Google in 2009.
"It's past time for the commission to execute its decision. The comparison shopping market is on its last legs and needs urgent intervention, or there may be no competition to protect."
Google did not respond to a comment request.
In addition to the policing competition, Vestager has been given a new role as executive vice president of digital for the European Commission, with the mission of boosting technology in the region.
Asked if she felt optimistic about using technology, she said, "Yes. We may not want to have facial recognition technology, but we definitely want technology for tumor recognition, for recognition of all the things we would like to have." detect early to improve health and combat climate change.
"Technology still has many promises. But to deliver on that promise, we need to trust it. And to do that, we need to control the dark side."