Google Given Weeks To Submit Remedies In EU Antitrust Probe
By Aoife White-May 21, 2012 8:32 AM ET
Google Inc. (GOOG) was told by the European Union’s antitrust chief it has a “matter of weeks” to resolve a probe and avoid possible fines over allegations that the operator of the world’s largest search engine discriminates against rivals.
EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia asked Google for proposals to address concerns that it promotes its own specialist search services, that it copies rivals’ content, including travel and restaurant reviews, and that its agreements with websites and software developers stifle competition in the advertising industry.
“I hope that Google seizes this opportunity to swiftly resolve our concerns,” Almunia told reporters at a press conference. “These fast-moving markets would particularly benefit from a quick resolution of the competition issues identified.”
Google, based in Mountain View, California, is under growing pressure from global regulators probing whether the company is thwarting competition in the market for Web searches. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission and antitrust agencies in Argentina and South Korea are also scrutinizing the company.
Google disagrees with the commission’s conclusions and is “happy to discuss any concerns they might have,” said Al Verney, a Brussels-based spokesman for the company, in an e- mailed statement.
“Competition on the web has increased dramatically in the last two years since the commission started looking at this and the competitive pressures Google faces are tremendous,” Verney said.
Complaints over Google’s Android operating system and the way the search engine deals with travel agencies are among “other issues” that will continue to be investigated, Almunia said. He declined to give details on possible antitrust violations.
Any settlement proposals from Google would be reviewed by the company’s competitors and rivals prior to being made legally binding by the EU authority.
International Business Machines Corp. (IBM), the biggest computer services provider, last year settled an EU antitrust probe into conduct that may have hindered rival mainframe-software makers. Apple Inc. and four publishers recently offered to settle an antitrust probe, the commission said last month.
“Restoring competition swiftly to the benefit of users at an early stage is always preferable,” Almunia said. Google has “repeatedly expressed” its willingness to discuss concerns “without having to engage in adversarial proceedings.”
Regulators in 2010 started investigating claims that Google discriminated against other services in its search results and stopped some websites from accepting rival ads. Expedia Inc. (EXPE)and TripAdvisor Inc. (TRIP), two online travel companies, in April joined Microsoft Corp. (MSFT)and several other companies in complaining about Google’s search.
While Microsoft and partner Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO) have about a quarter of the U.S. Web-search market, Google has almost 95 percent of the traffic in Europe, Microsoft said in a blog post last year, citing data from regulators.
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