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EU edges toward dropping Google 'abuse of dominance' charges

Fat concessions package pleases antitrust commish

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Europe's antitrust watchdog has said Google's revised proposed changes to its business practises, which came in the wake of "abuse of dominance" allegations, may be enough for the web giant to avoid formal penalties.

European Commissioner for Competition Joaquin Almunia has "considered that the outline of proposals that Google had re-submitted were good enough to move to the next stage", a spokeswoman for his office confirmed to The Register this morning.

Negotiations between the parties will continue behind closed doors and the EC spokeswoman said that details of the concessions offered by Google would not yet be made public.

She was also unable to confirm how long the talks might take before a deal could be struck with Google.

The Financial Times was first to report that Google had agreed an outline deal after it was told to address "abuse of dominance" allegations or else face "lengthy proceedings". Google was accused of stifling rivals by favouring its own products in search results.

The pink'un cited sources familiar with the talks who said that the search giant had "in principle" agreed to extend the proposal it made to address Almunia's concerns by offering to make it cover the company's mobile business as well.

A Google spokesman told El Reg: “We continue to work cooperatively with the commission.” But he declined to comment on the specifics of any deal now underway.

In May this year, Almunia threw a settlement lifeline to Google urging the company to strike a deal with the commission to help swiftly put an end to the nearly-two-year-long antitrust investigation of Google's business practices in Europe.

The competition commissioner indicated at the time that he would consider "proposals of remedies" from the web and advertising giant if it quickly addressed four areas of concern about Google allegedly stifling its rivals in the search market.

At the time, Almunia characterised four areas of concern as possible "abuse of dominance" in search. He pointed to potential "preferential treatment" when Google displays links to its own vertical search services. The company's practice of scraping content from competing websites was also flagged up by the commissioner.

The way Google dishes out "de facto exclusivity" ad agreements to its partners also troubled Almunia because of the potential for "shutting out competing providers" in the search ad biz.

Finally, Google's auction-based ad platform AdWords was also poked by the watchdog, who expressed concerns about the company imposing "contractual restrictions on software developers".

Google chairman Eric Schmidt bullishly dismissed Almunia's abuse claims when questioned by your correspondent in May.

He had told The Reg: "We disagree that we are in violation. Until they are precise about what areas of the law we have violated, it will be very difficult for me to speculate."

But it is now clear that a Statement of Objections involving lengthy legal proceedings won't be issued by the commission if the pre-charge settlement talks with Google put a quick end to the competition probe.

It's understood that Almunia will have a little more to add about his talks with Google around midday central European time today. ®

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