EU to Google: Your search antitrust concessions aren’t good enough

May 28, 2013
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EU to Google: Your search antitrust concessions aren’t good enough

Google's attempts to diffuse the risk of antitrust punishment in Europe look to be insufficient, the EU's competition commissioner has warned, saying it is "almost 100-percent" likely that more concessions will be demanded. The search company had submitted a list of potential ways it could level the playing field - including giving rivals prime position in results pages - back in April, but according to the EU's antitrust chief, they're unlikely to be considered enough.

"After, we will analyze the responses we have received, we will ask Google, probably, I cannot anticipate this formally, almost 100 percent we will ask Google: you should improve your proposals" Joaquin Almunia commented during a European Parliament hearing, Reuters reports.

Google faces accusations that its operations in Europe amount to anti-competition behavior, given it has the dominant market-share in the region. According to rivals, the company prioritizes its own services in search results pages, in addition to scraping content from third-party sites, making users less likely to click through to the source.

As part of its attempt to avoid mandatory sanctions, Google offered up a list of voluntary handicaps it hoped would placate Almunia and his team. Third-party sites unhappy with how their content had been included could opt-out - without impacting their regular search ranking - Google suggested, while its own services could be boxed-out in such a way that it was clear it was the company promoting its own wares.

Most interestingly, Google claimed it would promote the comparative results from up to three of its competitors in among its own results, giving them greater visibility among users who might instinctively use Google.

Unsurprisingly, those competitors weren't entirely convinced, with suggestions that Google might even benefit from highlighting its products in a beneficial way. "Labelling an infringement of competition law doesn’t prevent it being an infringement" European consumer rights organization BEUC argued.

Now, it seems the EC itself won't be so easily calmed, either. According to Almunia, Google is likely to be held to even stricter standards once the public feedback process has been completed; that's expected to happen on June 27, having been extended from the original May 26 deadline.

Meanwhile, Almunia said he had not decided whether Android should also be the subject of a formal investigation, though confirmed that the European Commission had received a complaint about the OS.

"We have received a formal complaint regarding some aspects of the Android ecosystem" the Commissioner said. "We are working on it, we have not decided if we will open or not a formal investigation."

The complaint, made by Fairsearch Europe - which counts Microsoft and Nokia among its membership - centered on the idea that Google was using Android "deceptively" to push its own apps and services in a way that muscled out rivals in the smartphone space. Google is yet to comment on Almunia's latest statements.


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