EU seeks more concessions from Google to end probe

Antitrust investigation has been going on since 2010, but Google proposal deemed inadequate

Financial trends and news by Steven Loeb
May 28, 2013
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Having begun in November 2010, the European Union's probe into Google's alleged antitrust violations has been going on for nearly three years now. It finally looks like it might be over soon, but not before the EU will try to get Google to make more consessions after a proposed settlement was deemed inadequate by critic.

Last month, Google said that it would do more to fend off accusations of violating antitrust laws by labeling its own products in internet search results, as well as making it easier for advertisers to move to rival platforms.

Critics, however, complained that the proposal put forth by Google did not go far enough, and now EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia is suggesting that he will begin looking into forcing the company to give up more in order to end the probe, according to a report from Reuters Tuesday.

"After, we will analyse the responses we have received... almost 100 percent we will ask Google: you should improve your proposals," Almunia is quoted as saying to lawmakers during a hearing at the European Parliament on Tuesday.

Initially, complainants were given until May 26th to comment on the proposal, but it was extended to June 27 after they complained that they were not being given enough time to formulate their responses. 

One of the complainants, lobbying group ICOMP, which counts Microsoft and four other rivals among its members, was among those that was unimpressed with that Google was willing to do.

"The current package is clearly insufficient. It is really unlikely if the current proposal can be improved to such a point where it can be effective," ICOMP's lawyer David Wood told Reuters.

Google, for its part, maintains that its proposal does satisify the EU's concerns.

"Our proposal to the European Commission clearly addresses their four areas of concern. We continue to work with the Commission to settle this case," Google spokesman Al Verney told VatorNews.

The probe first began in November 2010, when the European Union opened an investigation into Google, on charges of “unfavorable treatment of their services in Google’s unpaid and sponsored search results."

The European Commission received complaints from competing Internet search providers that Google has been placing their services lower in result rankings while giving preferential placing of its own. Additionally, the commission will investigate whether Google has prevented Internet companies from placing ads from Google competitors on their websites.

The complaints were brought forth by three companies: Foundem, a British price comparison service; Ciao, a Microsoft-owned German price comparison service; and eJustice, a French legal search service. 

Google's antitrust probes

Google has multiple antitrust investigations going on at the same time.

Along with the EU, Google is being investigated by Canada and South Korea.

Canada's Competition Bureau notified Google of its intentions to investigate the company's search practices in the country earlier this month. That investigation is in the early stages, and its exact nature is still unknown.

The antitrust investigation in South Korea opened in 2011. The country's two largest search companies, NHN Corp. and Daum Corp., accused Google of prohibiting local phone carriers from embedding their search applications on Android devices.  

While Google recently settled with the  Federal Trade Commission in January over alleged antitrust violations with its search algorithms, that agency is now looking to opening a new investigation, this time to see whether or not Google is using its dominant position in the online display-advertising market to curb competition.

The inquiry is in the preliminary stages right now, and may not actually lead to a larger investigation, depending on what the FTC finds.

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