Google Faces EU Demand for Better Antitrust Settlement Offer
By Stephanie Bodoni - May 28, 2013 7:58 AM ET
Google Inc. (GOOG) faces a demand for improved proposals to settle an EU antitrust probe into the way the company operates its search engine, the EU’s competition chief said today.
EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia told lawmakers in Brussels today that rivals, users and companies in the same market were given an extra month beyond the May 27 deadline to submit feedback on Google’s planned changes.
Regulators will analyze the responses and is then “almost 100 percent” certain to tell Google “you should improve your proposals,” Almunia said at the European Parliament in Brussels. He didn’t specify the areas where Google would need to make improvements.
The European Commission, the EU’s antitrust regulator, has said Google is dominant in Web search and search advertising in Europe and that the Mountain View, California-based company may harm competition. Almunia has sought a deal with Google to end the antitrust case, while competitors have urged regulators to force Google to change its practices.
The owner of the world’s largest search engine last month offered to label Google-branded search services and show links “to three rival specialized search services close to its own” as part of a series of commitments to end the almost three-year-old probe, according to the EU’s antitrust authority.
“We believe our proposal to the European Commission addresses the four concerns that were raised. We continue to work with the commission to settle this case,” Al Verney, a Brussels-based spokesman for the company, said by e-mail.
The initial remedies seek to address allegations that the company promotes its own specialist search services, such as Google News and Google Finance, copies rivals’ travel and restaurant reviews, and has agreements with websites and software developers that stifle competition in the advertising industry. The EU probe also includes any search services Google may develop in the future.
If Google sends proposals “that solve our concerns,” they will be made legally binding, Almunia said. “I hope that we can succeed to find a possible solution” by the end of the year, he said.
Google’s foes are seeking a tougher outcome from the EU probe after the U.S. closed a similar investigation without taking any action.
“The current set of proposed remedies is clearly unacceptable and it is very unlikely that they can be improved to the point at which they are effective in ending search discrimination and restoring effective competition,” David Wood, a lawyer for Brussels-based industry group ICOMP, which includes Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) and Foundem, a U.K. shopping comparison website, said by e-mail. “If there are substantial changes, we would expect there to be a new market test.”
The U.S.’s Federal Trade Commission in January concluded that Google was motivated more by wanting to improve its search results than by a desire to stifle competition.
Google is facing a new antitrust probe by the FTC into whether the company is using its leadership in the online display-advertising market to illegally curb competition, people familiar with the matter said earlier this month.
Google’s Android operating system for mobile phones and tablets as well as its Motorola Mobility unit are also under Almunia’s spotlight.
“We have received a complaint regarding certain aspects of the Android system,” he said today. “We are working on this, we have not yet decided if we will open or not a formal investigation.”
Motorola Mobility was sent an EU antitrust complaint earlier this month for abusing its dominant position as part of a probe into its control of key patents in gadgets such as Apple Inc. iPhones and iPads.
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