Google submits antitrust remedies to EU

Other market players will now be consulted

By Jennifer Baker, IDG News Service |  Legal

The European Commission confirmed on Thursday that it has formally received a package of concessions from Google aimed at ending a two-year antitrust investigation.

The Internet giant submitted detailed proposals at the end of January, and in the last few weeks, the Commission completed its preliminary assessment formally setting out its concerns, said Competition spokesman Antoine Colombani.

"We are now preparing the launch of a market test to seek feedback from market players, including complainants, on these commitment proposals. We will take into account this market test in our analysis of Google's proposals," he said.

Google has been under investigation by the Commission since November 2010 after rivals accused the search giant of setting its algorithm to direct users to its own services by reducing the visibility of competing websites and services.

Complaints were first lodged by French search engine eJustice.fr and the U.K.-based Foundem. But 14 other companies have since followed their lead, including Microsoft-owned German price comparison site Ciao, online shopping platform Twenga, British online mapping company Streetmap and online travel sites Expedia and TripAdvisor.

Last year Google was reported to have proposed a settlement of the antitrust case that involves labeling its own services in search results. But complainants were unimpressed with these suggestions and last month 11 of them urged Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia to formally charge Google with breaking competition law.

"We are becoming increasingly concerned that effective and future-proof remedies might not emerge through settlement discussions alone. Google's past behavior suggests that it is unlikely to volunteer effective, future-proof remedies without being formally charged with infringement," said the group in an open letter to Almunia.

According to reports, the proposed remedies submitted Thursday are similar to a settlement Google struck with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, and involve Google sharing more information through its advertising APIs (application programming interfaces) and agreeing not to scrape Web content from rivals.

Google has not elaborated on its concessions and said it continues to work closely with the Commission. But now other companies must be consulted on the proposals and if the Commission decides they are not satisfactory, it can resume the normal antitrust proceedings and adopt a Statement of Objections. However, Almunia has always been keen to use settlement agreements to resolve this sort of dispute.

Google has more than 90 percent of the search market in several European countries.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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