Europe offers Google settlement option in antitrust case

Europe offers Google settlement option in antitrust case

Summary: After months of dilly-dallying and thumb-twiddling, European competition regulators said Google can remedy its actions and settle to prevent a fully-fledged antitrust investigation.

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European regulators are offering Google the option of settling an ongoing investigation into whether it has abused its dominant position in the search market.

European Competition Commission Joaquin Almunia told reporters: "Today I'm giving Google an opportunity to offer remedies to address concerns that we have identified". He also sent a letter to Eric Schmidt outlining four key points that Google must rectify or face financial sanctions.

Google will have a few weeks to submit changes to its behaviour in a bid to stave off a full antitrust investigation.

The Commission had received over a dozen formal complaints, including notes from Microsoft-owned search engine Ciao!, Foundem, eJustice, Expedia, and TripAdvisor.

U.S. antitrust authorities are also taking a lead from Europe and investigating on the other side of the pond. Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt claimed the company was "not dominant" in web search when he appeared in front of U.S. lawmakers.

But with over 66 percent of the market share according to March comScore figures, Google continues to battle an uphill struggle despite its advanced position in the search market.

Google faces a fine not exceeding 10 percent of its global annual turnover if found guilty --- a figure that could exceed $3--4 billion (€2.3--3bn).

That said, Google has been given a chance to fix the problems. The search giant could even be issued with rules in how it should operate its business within Europe's borders.

In short, it has two options: settle and admit guilt, or prepare for a long fight and risk facing massive fines.

There are four areas the European authorities are concerned with:

1. Google displays links to its own "vertical search" services which could push out competitors in the market, noting that it displays these differently from "general search" services. Google displays links to its own vertical search services differently than it does for links to competitors. European regulators worries this could see "preferential treatment" compared to those of competing services, which could be hurt as a consequence.

2. Google "copies content" from competing vertical search services for use of its own offerings, "such as user reviews". It takes content from competing services "without prior authorisation". Regulators worry this could "competitors' incentives to invest in the creation of original content."

3. Google's search advertisement agreements with website partners are also under scrutiny. Europe's worry is the "de facto exclusivity" to Google shuts out competing advertising services and harms competition.

4. Google's restriction on the portability of data from its AdWords service to those of competitors. Almunia said it believes Google puts "contractual restrictions on software developers" which would prevent the "seamless transfer" of search advertising campaigns to other platforms.

"We disagree with the conclusions but we arere happy to discuss any concerns they might have," a Google spokesman said in an emailed statement to sister site CNET.

Google could play the long game. The investigation itself could take 2--3 years --- if not longer --- to conclude, much in similar fashion to Microsoft's antitrust case which took over three years between June 2004 and September 2007.

Microsoft was ultimately fined €899 million ($1.4bn in 2008), and appealed, but failed, leading to further legal costs being paid and more fines imposed.

Having said that, its "its willingness to discuss any concerns the Commission might have" has shown co-operation on Google's part. In doing so would admit guilt but it would end a drawn out process it would expect otherwise.

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Topics: Enterprise Software, Google, Government, Government US, Security

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19 comments
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  • Here's the EU trying to solve it's money problems...

    Here's the EU trying to solve it's money problems not by trying to be financially responsible but by finding who has the deepest pockets.
    Scubajrr
    • EC should butt off

      before facing embarrassments like Oracle in US.
      Google is innocent.
      The Linux Geek
      • Innocent?

        NOT according to the EU.
        NonFanboy
  • thieves in suits

    Ha, another confirmation, that google is nothing but a bunch of thieves in suits.

    Few examples...

    1. They rip-off other companies software
    2. Supports Open-source software only to line its pockets with cash.
    3. Copies other search engines content.
    4. YouTube is hosting billions of copy-righted content
    5. No respect for others IP.
    6. Tens of thousands of small business are closed, because google is offering many services 'free', but profit from illegal advertising.
    owllnet
    • I agree 100%

      They are absolutely nothing but thieves in suits. I would love for them not to settle and get whats coming to them. Massive fines is the only thing that would get them to start changing their thieving ways.
      oraman
    • lies and FUD!

      Google respects IP and creates thousands of small business opportunities.
      The Linux Geek
  • Europe offers Google settlement option in antitrust case

    I hope Google refuses just so the EU can really slap them around and give them a huge fine although that still wouldn't be enough.
    Loverock Davidson-
  • The EC are stuffed now

    Davidson is one of their cheerleaders.
    ego.sum.stig
  • The thing is...

    ...it's really impossible to force people to use the Google search engine. It's taken me a few seconds per machine to switch my default search engine to Duck Duck Go and I'm quite happy with the results.

    De-windowing one's PC takes a lot longer and is much less convenient.
    John L. Ries
    • The thing is, the EC is not making claims about your search engine

      Read the bullet points. Google is locking in advertisers and screen scraping competitor search engines.
      Your Non Advocate
  • Tough call on who to root for

    Although the EC is making strong arguments, they are still the effete EC who is targeting a US company for the crime of being a successful US company. On the other hand, Google grabbing other search results and locking in advertisers is clearly anti-competitive.
    Your Non Advocate
    • Just what is "successful?"

      The amount of money you bag, the business practices you employ and leverage, the responsibilities you own up to beyond your shareholder and inner circle elite? Seems to me they're being targeted less for the "crime of success" than anti-competitive practices, as enumerated.

      As for the "effete" EC, is benevolence defined by sticking your head in a hole or routinely looking away, like our Yankee overseers have become so accustomed to doing? To the point where the US tech industry employs more foreigners + Communists than it does American workers? Is that but another hallmark of being successful?
      klumper
  • so,so

    The first one is a little bit of UI modification at the most.


    The second one Google can easily cease doing that in the EU, but in that case I will probably end up going to Amazon in stead, in the US they are covered by fair use laws.

    The third one is the biggest problem for Google, but I see ways Google can create money and create a bigger opening for other companies.

    Some clearing up or creating of rules surrounding data export in it ad words. Perhaps an API.

    All in all Brin, Schmidt and Page can sleep well in there beds tonight.

    The biggest question is, will the EU even be around in 3 months time to start an investigation or even the 3 years it would take to bring such a case to court.
    Knowles2
  • funny

    weren't Microsoft recently found using google data in their search results?

    Also... from my own adwords and others experience, Google seem to have the least restrictive environment. (but INAL)

    Perhaps Google should show the EU Apple, Microsoft's and yahoo's ad network agreements so they can get some scope on the issue.

    With regards to the shill owllnet, I have some points to make.

    1. Google didn't put the copyright infringing content on youtube, they provide tools to remove it and they respond quickly to requests, sometimes even illegal ones from companies other than the copyright holders.
    2. Microsoft has scraped others results too I believe, one of the victims was google from memory.
    3. Free services? you mean like Hotmail? facebook? office360? iCloud? Sorry dude, none of those are Google offerings.

    Go and collect your check from whomever is paying you shill. you've earned it.
    frankieh
  • none of it is forced.

    The IE/Windows monopoly was different to this.

    1. You don't get forced to buy google services when buying a computer like you did before the DOJ case against MS. likewise, Chrome isn't forced on anyone either. If you have it, it's because you wanted it. That isn't the Microsoft way if history is any guide.
    2. You don't get forced to use google search, adwords or anything else google offer. Don't like it? fine, go elsewhere, there is plenty of choices out there.
    3. If Google don't differentiate their own products, they get accused of trying to hide their own services as search results, if they do differentiate them, they get accused of giving them preferential treatment. In what way is that fair? It's not like Microsoft or Apple, or Yahoo sites list all their competitors tools alongside their own, why the heck should Google?
    4. The fact that people are hammering Google when a convicted monopolist has just declared that it's Windows RT tablet will only have 1 browser that can run at full speed and it isn't Googles is just a little bit suss.. I can't think of anything Google have done (comparatively) to earn the amount of nastyness that the zdnet comments heap on them. Shilling is illegal as I understand it.. I hope one day they find a good way of tracking it and prosecuting the offenders.
    frankieh
    • Advertisers are forced

      Advertisers are forced to use Google though because it has destroyed competion on the on line ad market. In some EU states Google handles 98% of websearches.
      That means web companies get charged higher ad-rates than nescesary in a competative webadvertising setting and those higher fees we can find back in prices we pay.
      IE11
      • Web search

        Web searching is completely different to providing an ad network.

        The Price issues, No one has every manage to prove that in any other court case and there been a few, which is why the commission did not mention price in its documents, there nothing wrong with a monopoly, it only wrong when you abuse that monopoly and still there scant evidence that Google has done that. , It will close to impossible to prove or that there anything Google can do directly to prevent people paying more on it systems, it an auction system meaning the prices can go as high as people are willing to pay, and I doubt Google been bidding up the price, they are not that dumb..

        Google has built its internal systems to be pretty robust against anti trust cases, the above will be settle easily by Google, through it will make the user experience worst, but then the commission job is not to consider us users.

        Also companies do not have to advertise on a search site.
        Knowles2
  • Bad mafia novel!

    Who is running the show over there?! The Scicilian mob? "I see bad things happening in this neighborhood, but for a small courtesy fee, I can make sure those bad things don't happen to you."

    Oooh, or "Training Day"!

    I mean, sure, I have no evidence you've done anything wrong, but if I have to kick down some doors, who knows what I may find.

    Seriously! WTF?! Settlements were always an ethically tenuous release valve for the TRIAL system. They were never meant to be coercive tools used for shakedowns in the absence of INVESTIGATIONS!
    tkejlboom
    • Agreed

      A settlement shouldn't even be on the table until the prosecutor/plaintiff thinks he has the evidence in hand (unless the suspect voluntarily confesses). I dislike settlements in which the defendent admits no wrongdoing for the same reason: if he didn't do anything wrong, then why is he paying?
      John L. Ries