Google gets ultimatum over EC antitrust probe

The European Commission has given Google the chance to avoid formal proceedings by coming up with remedies to antitrust concerns over page-ranking and advertising

The European Commission has given Google a deadline to settle the antitrust concerns it has with the company, or face formal proceedings.

The Commission's concerns centre on four areas: whether Google may have given its search results preferential treatment over competitors; whether it shut off advertising from competing search engines; whether it restricted portability of AdWords ad campaign; and whether it scraped content from competing search engines and presented it as its own results.

The Commission has sent Google chief executive Eric Schmidt a letter asking the company to come up with proposals to remedy the Commission's concerns "in a matter of weeks", competition commissioner Joaquín Almunia said in a speech on Monday.

"Should this process fail to deliver a satisfactory set of remedies, the ongoing formal proceedings will of course continue, including the possible sending of a statement of objections," Almunia said.

However, should Google create a package of proposals that successfully ease the Commission's concerns, the proceedings will not go ahead. Instead, the Commission will take a 'commitment decision', making the proposals into a legally binding undertaking, although any final proposal by Google will be market-tested by complainants before it becomes binding.

"If Google comes up with an outline of remedies which are capable of addressing our concerns, I will instruct my staff to initiate the discussions in order to finalise a remedies package," said Almunia. "This would... solve our concerns by means of a commitment decision — pursuant to Article 9 of the EU Antitrust Regulation — instead of having to pursue formal proceedings with a statement of objections and to adopt a decision imposing fines and remedies."

ZDNet UK understands that the Commission wants to avoid a lengthy legal process, and bring rapid results, after completing its preliminary antitrust investigation into the company.

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