EC accepts Google's antitrust pledges

Wednesday 05 February 2014 23.09
The EC said Google had proposed improved commitments in the area of online search and advertising
The EC said Google had proposed improved commitments in the area of online search and advertising

Google has sealed a deal with the EU's antitrust regulators and has also warded off a possible fine of up to $5bn (€3.7bn) with further concessions to ease regulatory concerns about its internet search practices.

The world's dominant search engine has been the focus of a European Commission investigation since November 2010.

More than a dozen complainants across Europe had accused the company of promoting its own services at their expense.

Google's latest and third attempt to resolve the case came after the EU competition authority and critics rejected its first two proposals as inadequate.

European Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said the new proposal addressed regulatory worries.

"After careful analysis of the last proposals we received from Google last month and intense negotiations that manage to further improve what Google sent us mid-January, I believe today that Google's new proposals are able, are capable of addressing that Competition concerns I set out to them.

"Therefore from now on, we will move forward towards a decision based on commitments," Mr Almunia told a news conference.

Google's offer only covers Europe and would be valid for five years.

Mr Almunia said he would not seek feedback from critics, unlike the first two times, but would send letters to 18 official complainants explaining his decision.

He said Google will let three rivals display their logos and web links in a prominent box each time the search engine seeks to promote its own services in search results.

"When Google promotes one of its own specialized services, there will be three rival services also displayed prominently on the page in a way that is clearly visible to users," Mr Almunia said.

He added that content providers will be able to decide what material Google can use for its own services.

Google will also scrap restrictions that prevent advertisers from moving their campaigns to rival platforms such as Yahoo!'s search tool and Microsoft's Bing.

Group criticises Google deal

An organisation backed by a number of global internet companies, which is seeking to reduce the dominance of the Google search engine, has criticised the deal.

FairSearch Europe, which is backed by Microsoft, Oracle, TripAdvisor and Expedia, says the proposed deal is worse than doing nothing at all.

The group says the proposed commitments have not been subjected to any form of consultation, lock in discrimination and raise rivals' costs, instead of solving the problem of Google's anti-competitive practices.

The group claims the proposals require rivals to pay Google for placement similar to that of Google's own material, undercutting the ability of others to compete.

It has called for broad consumer and business consultation on the proposals, adding that the previous two proposed deals were only found to be fatally flawed after they had undergone such scrutiny.

Despite the internet search deal, Google may still face a second EU probe, this time into its Android operating system for smartphones, with potentially bigger risks for the company.

Mr Almunia said he would talk with officials in the coming weeks about the next step of the case.

Google gives away Android for free. The software, which is available on three out of four smartphones sold worldwide, essentially helps the company extend its core search business and boost its usage in the mobile world.