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February 22, 2013

Google, EU Could Reach Settlement By Fall

But Some Complainants Skeptical About Search Giant's Proposal

The European Commission’s investigation into Google’s search practices could wrap up this fall if the group finds the search engine giant’s concessions acceptable.

The commission, the executive arm of the European Union, began probing Google’s methods after receiving a number of complaints from companies, including Microsoft, that say the technology firm uses its monopoly of the market to give its own products and services prominence over that of its competitors.

In an attempt to avoid  being fined by the EU, Google has since come forward with a settlement proposal — a proposal that must be approved by the commission.

EU anti-trust chief Joaquin Almunia told a Concurrences Journal conference the parties should be able to reach a consensus after the commission reconvenes from its summer break in August.

“We could have an accord after the summer vacations, if this all works,” he was quoted by Bloomberg. “That would be my favorite solution, but it doesn’t depend on me.”

Almunia is hopeful he can begin checking Google’s offer with rivals and customers “in the coming months”  — once officials conclude their scrutiny of the proposed settlement. If that procedure is concluded without any snags, the EU could make Google’s offer legally binding and forgo all fines, he told Bloomberg.

Although neither side has made public details of the proposed settlement, sources close to the issue told Reuters Google has offered to label its own services in search results to distinguish them from competitors’ services. It has also proposed fewer limitations on advertisers.

According to Reuters, at least some of those to lodge complaints against Google are skeptical the settlement will occur so soon.

“We will withhold judgment on Google’s proposals until we have seen them, but everything we have learned about Google makes us skeptical that it would volunteer truly effective remedies until it has been formally charged with infringement,” said Shivaun Raff CEO of complainant Foundem.