Playing nicely with rivals, better labelling: Google offers antitrust peace pipe to Europe

Summary:The EC has published the list of measures it's offering to get the EC off its back, including flagging up when it's serving up its own services in search results.

After much wrangling over antitrust, Google has set out how it plans to ease Europe's worries over the dominance of its search business.

In March, the European Commission (EC) announced it had concerns that Google "may be abusing its dominant position" in search, by displaying search results for its own businesses — such as Shopping — above rivals', sending less traffic their way and limiting consumers' choice.

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The EC also said it was worried Google was using third-party content without producers' consent, such as reusing other companies' reviews in its own specialised search; making advertisers sign deals agreeing largely or only to do business with Google; and making it harder for advertisers to shift their campaigns to Google's competitors.

"The Commission considers at this stage that these practices could harm consumers by reducing choice and stifling innovation in the fields of specialised search services and online search advertising," the EC said today.

The EC has now published the list of measures Google has offered to take to help the Commission sleep easier.

First off, Google's offering to better label search results featuring its own services so users know what they're seeing, and to separate them out in some way, such as by putting a box around them. It's also promising to "display links to three rival specialised search services close to its own services, in a place that is clearly visible to users".

To address fears of content being reused without companies' permission, Google said it would introduce an opt-out for content producers, letting them specify their material shouldn't crop up in Google services, such as local search. Using the opt-out won't "unduly affect" a website's search rankings, Google claims.

The company is also giving newspaper publishers a "mechanism allowing them to control on a web page per [by] web page basis the display of their content in Google News" —  a remedy likely aimed at the ongoing arguments in Europe over the necessity of a 'Google tax' to remunerate publications for their content appearing on Google News.

It's also ditching the contractual obligations that ruffled the EC's feathers, putting an end to contractual obligations stopping advertisers from managing search advertising campaigns across rival platforms, and putting an end to any explicit or implicit agreements with advertisers that they have to get their ads purely from Google.

All promises wrung from Google would last for five years and cover the European Economic Area.

The Commission is asking for comments on the proposals from interested parties for a period of one month (details of how to give feedback can be found here). If the market reacts favourably, the EC will make the measures legally binding, meaning if Google breaks any of its promises, it could be fined up to 10 percent of its annual turnover.

Topics: Google, EU, Legal

About

Jo Best has been covering IT for the best part of a decade for publications including silicon.com, Guardian Government Computing and ZDNet in both London and Sydney.

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