Google makes offer to settle EU antitrust probe

Google picnik.jpg

Google has offered to settle antitrust charges following an ultimatum by EU regulators investigating its business practices, in a move that could stave off a hefty fine.

EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia set an early July deadline for the world's most popular search engine to resolve the concerns of more than a dozen rivals, including Microsoft, or face formal charges.

"We have made a proposal to address the four areas the European Commission described as potential concerns. We continue to work cooperatively with the Commission," Google spokesman Al Verney said in a statement on Monday.

He declined to provide details.

Almunia's spokesman Antoine Colombani confirmed that the EU watchdog received a letter from Google's executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, on Monday (2 July) in reply to Almunia. He gave no details.

Almunia in May identified four areas of concerns related to Google's business practices following an 18-month long investigation.

He said Google may have favoured its own search services over those of rivals and may have copied travel and restaurant reviews from competing sites without their permission.

He also said the company's advertising deals with websites may have blocked rivals while its contractual restrictions may prevent advertisers from moving their online campaigns to rival search engines.

The FairSearch coalition, whose members include online travel agencies and Google complainants Expedia and TripAdvisor, said it hoped Google's proposals would address the issues.

"We hope the proposals reflect a greater willingness to end Google's anti-competitive behavior than has its consistent rejection of the concerns that Almunia identified after collecting evidence for nearly two years," FairSearch's lawyer Thomas Vinje said in a statement.

EU consumer organisation BEUC called on the European Commission to ensure Google's proposed remedies "put an end to manipulated search results."

“Google is the daily ‘go-to’ search engine for millions of consumers, so the notion of sought content being unfairly stacked is cause for considerable concern. Consumers are harmed if provided with partial or biased query results, as it cuts out the chance to make informed choices," said Monique Goyens, BEUC Director General.

“The response from Google shows the European Commission’s concerns were well-founded and there are strong indications the company has abused its position in the online search market.”

"There should not be a dominant cartographer of the internet."

In November 2010, the Commission launched an antitrust investigation into allegations that Google had abused a dominant market position in the internet search market.

Microsoft ratcheted up its rivalry with Google by filing its first-ever complaint to the EU watchdog in March last year, claiming that Google systematically blocked internet search competition.

The Commission can fine companies up to 10% of their global turnover for breaching EU rules. It has in recent years imposed billion-euro penalties on Microsoft and Intel for anti-competitive behaviour.

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