Google's rivals want to review new concessions in EU antitrust case

Google offered the European Commission new concessions to settle a long-running antitrust investigation case last week

By Jennifer Baker, IDG News Service |  Networking

Google's rivals on Monday called for a second full review of the search giant's latest proposed measures aimed at avoiding a fine from the European Commission for allegedly breaking competition rules.

Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia received new proposals from Google last week, his office said Monday, and now the search giant's rivals want a chance to comment on them.

Google has been under investigation by the European Commission since November 2010, after rivals accused the search giant of directing users to its own services by reducing the visibility of competing websites and services in search results. It was also accused of content-scraping and imposing contractual restrictions that prevent advertisers from moving their online campaigns to rival search engines.

In April Google proposed a set of measures to avoid sanctions, including labelling links to its own sites in search results. It also promised to include links to rival search engines for specialist restaurant search results that generate revenue for Google, remove exclusivity provisions from advertising contracts for five years and offer tools to prevent web scraping by allowing content owners to opt out.

The Commission gave interested parties the opportunity to comment on the April proposals, a process it calls "market testing". Most rivals and complainants said the measures were not good enough.

Now FairSearch Europe, a group made up of companies that have complained about Google, says that the new proposals should also be market tested.

"Given the failure of Google to make a serious offer last time around, we believe it is necessary that customers and competitors of Google be consulted in a full, second market test," said Thomas Vinje, FairSearch Europe's legal spokesman in a statement.

However, under Commission rules, Almunia is not obliged to run a second market test.

Google spokesman Al Verney said that the company is working to address the Commission's four main areas of concern.

The Commission can impose a fine of up to 10 percent of a company's annual turnover if it believes its concerns have not been addressed. It can also order changes in the company's operations to remove any antitrust breaches. However Almunia is reluctant to go down this time-consuming route in the fast-moving IT sector, preferring to reach mutual agreement with companies under the so-called Article 9 provision. Once measures are accepted by the Commission, they become legally binding.

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

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