The European Union has lauched a formal antitrust investigation into Google’s online search operations. The probe will look into accusations that Google abused its dominance in online search, exposing the company’s very private technology to scrutiny in Brussels. The investigation was brought about by complaints from smaller web businesses, which say Google downgraded their sites in its search results to weaken the competition. The European Commission will also explore whether Google gave its services “preferential placement” in search results. “Rigorous competition of all players, including smaller and innovative ones, must be preserved for the future,” Joaquín Almunia, the competition commissioner, told members of the European Parliament. He added that the decision to upgrade the investigation from a preliminary inquiry that was started this year did not mean “that there is definitely a problem.” Unlike in the U.S., where Google takes about 66 per cent of the online search market, in Europe, Google dominates with about 80 percent of the market.