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July 17, 2013

EU Tells Google More Concessions Needed to Settle Anti-Trust Case

Google has more work to do to assuage concerns it is using its monopoly of the market to give its own products and services prominence over that of its competitors, the European Commission’s antitrust chief says.

Google submitted four concessions in April in an attempt to avoid being fined up to 10 percent of its global annual revenue by the EU, but rivals have complained, saying the concessions fall far short of what is needed to better level the playing field.

The European Commission obviously agrees. European Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said in a press conference today Google must do better.

“I concluded that the proposals that Google sent to us are not enough to overcome our concerns,” Almunia was quoted by Reuters.

Almunia said he has sent a letter requesting the changes to Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt.

The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, began probing Google’s search methods after receiving a number of complaints from companies, including those from FairSearch, that allege the technology firm rigs search results in its favor.

The Commission in March provided Google with a list of four concerns to address.

Google senior vice-president and general counsel Kent Walker, wrote in a blog post last month that Google’s proposals address each of the four concerns laid out by the Commission, adding that they provide “additional choice and information while also leaving room for future innovation.”

Google spokesman Al Verney reiterated Walker’s message in a brief statement released to the media today.

“Our proposal to the European Commission clearly addresses their four areas of concern,” said Verney. “We continue to work with the commission to settle this case.”

Google’s chief rivals began urging the European Commission to reject the technology titan’s proposed search practice concessions last month.

FairSearch, a group of 17 technology and search companies such as Microsoft, Expedia, Oracle and Nokia, describe Google’s proposal as “a glittering generality, without any substance.”

“Google’s proposals would further stifle competition,” FairSearch Europe attorney Thomas Vinje said in a recent statement on the organization’s website. “In short, it would be better to do nothing than to accept Google’s proposals.”

Google submitted the following concessions, noting they would be good for a five-year period:

1. Label promoted links to its own specialized search services so users can distinguish them from natural Web search results.

• Clearly separate these promoted links from other Web search results by clear graphical features (such as a frame);

• Display links to three rival specialized search services close to its own services, in a place that is clearly visible to users.

2. Offer all websites the option to opt-out from the use of all their content in Google’s specialized search services, while ensuring that any opt-out does not unduly affect the ranking of those websites in Google’s general Web search results.

• Offer all specialized search websites that focus on product search or local search the option to mark certain categories of information in such a way that such information is not indexed or used by Google;

• Provide newspaper publishers with a mechanism allowing them to control on a web page per web page basis the display of their content in Google News.

3. No longer include in its agreements with publishers any written or unwritten obligations that would require them to source online search advertisements exclusively from Google.

4. No longer impose obligations that would prevent advertisers from managing search advertising campaigns across competing advertising platforms.