Google keeps EU regulator waiting on concessions

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Google has yet to offer EU regulators concessions to address concerns it may have abused its market dominance, the EU's antitrust chief said on Thursday, raising the prospects of a bruising battle between the two sides.

Nearly three weeks ago, EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia offered the world's most popular search engine a last chance to settle the 18-month long probe and avoid a fine that could reach up to 10 percent of the company's global turnover.

Asked on Thursday if Google had responded to his ultimatum, Almunia told Reuters: "Nothing from Google yet, we are waiting for a reply from Google."

Almunia, who had previously said he had given the company several weeks to reply, declined to comment on speculation that the Commission has set a July 2 deadline for Google.

"It's a question of weeks," he said, speaking on the sidelines of the European State Aid Law Institute conference.

Google spokesman Al Verney said the company was "engaging co-operatively with the Commission".

Google, with about 86 percent of the European search market, could be hit with formal charges in a so-called statement of objections if it does not come up with concessions, which could curb its bargaining power.

Almunia said last month that an 18-month investigation showed Google may have favoured its own search services over rivals and may have copied travel and restaurant reviews from competing sites without their permission.

He also said Google's advertising deals with websites may have blocked its rivals and that restrictions on advertisers from moving their online campaigns to rival search engines were a concern.

Two days later, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt gave little indication he felt the need to compromise.

"We disagree that we are in violation, until they are more precise on what area of the law we are in violation of. Give us the precise data, the precise problem," he was quoted by the Financial Times and Guardian newspapers as saying at an event in southern England.

The European Commission launched a probe into Google in November 2010 after rivals, including Microsoft, accused the Internet search firm of manipulating search results and promoting its own services while demoting theirs.

The Commission has received 16 complaints to date, with the latest lodged by several online travel and booking agencies such as TripAdvisor, Opodo and eDreams.

The majority of complainants are small competitors across Europe. U.S. enforcers are also looking at the group, which controls more than two-thirds of the global search market.

In separate investigations, EU privacy regulators are scrutinising Google's new privacy policy, which came into effect on March 1.

Copyright Thomson Reuters 2012

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