Rivals to again review Google's promises in EU antitrust case

The EU competition chief expects a resolution of the case involving search results for Google services 'by next Spring'

By Jennifer Baker, IDG News Service |  Networking

The European Union is to give Google's competitors a chance to review the company's latest proposals to avoid antitrust sanctions.

Google is accused of directing users to its own services in results rather than those of competitors. In its first proposals to the European Commission to settle the antitrust case, it suggested labelling its own services as such in search results, but competitors were extremely unhappy with this. Some said it would even make matters worse

The latest proposals from Google are significantly improved, according to the E.U.'s competition commissioner, Joaquin Almunia.

He still believes that a settlement is possible, and the best solution for consumers, he said at a special hearing in the European Parliament on Tuesday, adding that he hopes to resolve the case by "next Spring." However, he did not completely rule out the possibility of sanctions if Google's proposals prove unsatisfactory.

The first review process, or market test, led Almunia to doubt whether it would be possible to reach an agreement on the measures to which Google must commit.

"Many respondents during the market test said that in this Google proposal the links to rivals that would be displayed for certain categories of specialized search services were not visible enough. In my opinion, the new proposal makes these links significantly more visible."

Google is keen to bring the case to a close, according to the company's senior vice president and general counsel, Kent Walker.

"Given the feedback the European Commission received on our first proposal, they have insisted on further, significant changes to the way we display search results. While competition online is thriving, we've made the difficult decision to agree to their requirements in the interests of reaching a settlement," Walker said.

The case has been ongoing since November 2010, but Google is also facing other investigations in the European Union. It's Motorola Mobility unit was sent a formal complaint by the European Commission for abusing its dominant position by imposing injunctions against Apple for the use of standards-essential patents.

Another probe that is at a preliminary stage concerns allegations received about some aspects of the Android ecosystem. Almunia said on Tuesday that he had not reached a decision on whether to launch a formal investigation into Android.

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

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