Google shares top US$800 despite Microsoft challenge

NEW YORK (AFP) - Internet search king Google's shares pushed past US$800 for the first time on Tuesday despite a tough new challenge from Microsoft and looming European Union action over alleged privacy violations.

Google's closed at US$806.85 on the Nasdaq exchange, up 1.8 per cent from Friday's close, after having hit US$807 during the day.

That pushed the company's market valuation to US$266 billion (S$328.9 billion). The shares were up 14 per cent from the beginning of 2013 and 33 per cent over the past 52 weeks.

On Jan 22, Google reported firm 2012 fourth-quarter gains, with profit up 6.7 per cent from a year earlier at US$2.89 billion. For the full year, Google's earnings grew 10 per cent to US$10.74 billion, on revenues topping US$50 billion.

Several analysts strengthened their recommendations for the shares with price targets ranging from US$800 to US$900, the latter from Cantor Fitzgerald.

But the company faces fresh challenges.

In a new push for its Outlook email service, Microsoft has launched a negative ad campaign against Google, asking readers if they have been "Scroogled" by Google's use of personal data from users of its Gmail service.

"Think Google respects your privacy? Think again," the Microsoft ads say.

"Google goes through every Gmail that's sent or received, looking for keywords so they can target Gmail users with paid ads." Microsoft says its Outlook service will not scan emails to target online ads.

On Monday France's CNIL data protection agency said that European data privacy regulators intend to take action against Google after it failed to follow their orders to comply with EU privacy laws.

"At the end of a four-month delay accorded to Google to comply with the European data protection directive and to implement effectively (our) recommendations, no answer has been given," said CNIL.

National authorities responsible for enforcing data protection laws in the EU said they plan to set up a working group to "coordinate their coercive actions which should be implemented before the summer."

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