Google has formally submitted a package of concessions to European Union
competition regulators in a strong signal that the world's No. 1 search
engine may be able to settle a two-year antitrust investigation without
Google first offered proposals at the end of January
following a spate of complaints from rivals such as Microsoft that
triggered the European Commission's investigation in November 2010.
the company, which has a market share of over 80 percent in Europe's
Internet search market according to research firm comScore, has now made
a formal offer after fine-tuning its proposals following discussions
with the EU antitrust authority.
"In the last few weeks, the
Commission completed its preliminary assessment formally setting out its
concerns. On this basis, Google then made a formal submission of
commitments to the Commission," said Antoine Colombani, the Commission's
spokesman on competition policy.
"We are now preparing the launch
of a market test to seek feedback from market players, including
complainants, on these commitment proposals," he said, declining to
EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia,
speaking in Washington, said on Thursday that whatever agreement is
reached will be legally binding.
"I am trying to reach a decision that will include legally binding commitments based on the Google proposal," he told reporters.
U.S. Federal Trade Commission wrapped up a similar probe in early
January by concluding that Google did not manipulate search results.
(Also see: All you need to know about Google's antitrust settlement)
also extracted pledges that Google would end the practice of "scraping"
content from other websites for its products and allow advertisers to
export analytical data, but did not take formal, legal action to ensure
those pledges would be met - a decision that angered Google's critics.
brushed aside questions about whether the FTC's conclusions would make
it more difficult for his investigators to make a different finding.
"This is not creating any difficulty for our investigation," he said.
also said that there had been no decision made on whether to
investigate complaints by Google critics such as Microsoft that Google
was guilty of predatory pricing in offering its Android mobile operating
system for free.
"We have not yet decided if a formal investigation will be launched or not," Almunia said.
Labels may be the answer
familiar with the matter have previously told Reuters that Google has
offered to label its own services in search results to differentiate
them from rival services, and also to impose fewer restrictions on
Google spokesman Al Verney said the company continues
to work cooperatively with the Commission. A settlement with the
regulator would stave off a fine that could reach $5 billion, or 10
percent of its 2012 revenues.
The Commission said Google may have
violated antitrust rules by pushing its own services over those of
rivals, copying travel and restaurant reviews from competing sites
without permission and restricting advertisers from moving to competing
The market test is critical to determine whether regulators accept Google's concessions or demand more.
an indication of the pitfalls still ahead for Google, online German
mapping service and Google complainant Hotmaps said the concessions must
address rivals' concerns.
"hot-map.com will actively partake in
the market testing of Google's concessions and only accept a settlement
if competition is fully restored in a future-proof manner," said Michael
Weber, the company's chief executive.
Frustrated by the slow pace
of the Commission's investigation, rivals such as British price
comparison site Foundem, U.S. online sites Expedia and TripAdvisor, and
German publishers have already urged tougher action.
online mapping company Streetmap, another Google complainant in the EU
investigation, took its case to the British court on Thursday, citing
damage incurred as a result of Google's practices.
© Thomson Reuters 2013