Google offers rival links in search to escape Euro antitrust penalties

Google is offering to promote content from search engine rivals such as Bing and Yahoo in an attempt to placate the European Commission, hoping to escape expensive censure with more openness in what results users see. The deal, which would last for five years according to Google, comes amid an investigation into accusations of web search dominance in Europe; in addition to featuring competitors' results near to its own services, Google has suggested it could better label its own links to services.

Such labels would affect how Google's specialized services – such as Google Shopping and Google Places – integrate their results into the regular search stream. Currently, the search giant "prominently displays links to its own specialised search services within its web search results and does not inform users of this favourable treatment" according to the EC, with rival options either pushed down the page or omitted altogether.

"The Commission is concerned that this practice unduly diverts traffic away from Google's competitors in specialised search towards Google's own specialised search services. It therefore reduces the ability of consumers to find a potentially more relevant choice of specialised search services. Since Google is an important source of traffic for competing specialised search services, this may reduce competitors' incentives to innovate in specialised search" EC

Google has said it could use a frame around its own services' results, so as to more clearly indicate to users that they're enjoying special treatment, in addition to showing "links to three rival specialised search services close to its own services, in a place that is clearly visible to users." Third-parties unhappy with how Google had indexed them and offered up their content could more readily opt-out from specialized search, in a process that "does not unduly affect the ranking of those web sites in Google's general web search results."

Further concessions include more freedom for advertisers, allowing them greater liberty to manage campaigns across multiple platforms, and to "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".

A one month trial in the market will take place, allowing Google's rivals, content owners, and users to give feedback as to whether the system is seen to have been successful or not. If the proposals are fully accepted, the EC would likely install an "independent Monitoring Trustee" who would be responsible for making sure Google behaved as it had promised.

However, even if Google escapes more dramatic censure this time, the EC says it is still investigating other allegations made against the company. Those include Android-related business practices. The company also faces potentially huge fines for how it handled privacy policy changes in 2012.

[via TNW]