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Rivals to Brussels: Google labelling its own stuff won't help us

'Could mean more people sucked in, not less'

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A Microsoft-backed lobby group that is fighting Google's alleged dominance of the search market in Europe has claimed that any concession by Brussels competition officials that involves labelling could do more harm than good for the ad giant's rivals.

ICOMP's legal counsel David Wood argued today that Google's proposed remedy for its European search market dominance - that of clearly labelling or branding its own products on its search engine - would have far less impact for Mountain View's competitors than an agreement with the European Commission to change its display and ranking system.

It's been speculated since October 2012 that Google would attempt to placate EU competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia by offering to brand its search results - which would mean that a corporate stamp would be added to products such as maps, airline flight details and other services.

Wood, speaking from Brussels to reporters this morning, said that labelling "could lead to more people going to Google sites, rather than less." He added that it wouldn't "solve problems such as crawling and indexing" because, he claimed, Google tweaks its systems much more than it would for its rivals.

ICOMP is lobbying for a non-discriminatory policy for search display and ranking.

However, Wood admitted that the group knows very little about Google's latest remedy package submitted to the commission, which is intended to address four areas of alleged "abuse of dominance" concerns identified by the EU in the search market.

"We don't know much about what's in it," Wood said.

It's understood that Google has put forward an informal Article 9 offer to Almunia's office, which - if considered agreeable to the commission - would mean the company would not have to explicitly admit to dominance in the search market, nor would it have to cough to supposed abusive actions taking place.

Wood continued, saying that ICOMP reckoned the commission was looking for what he described as an "FTC Plus" settlement because the deal struck in the US with the Federal Trade Commission at the start of this year "won't necessarily be sufficient for [Almunia], so the EC will seek something else on top."

On the topic of labelling, Wood argued:

To the extent that Google offers concessionary remedies – there's a safe assumption that Google has tested all the offers it can make on its own system to see if it has any impact on its traffic.

Almunia received Google's latest search business remedy proposals earlier this month. It's not the first time the company has submitted possible concessions to Brussels.

The Register asked Wood if ICOMP sensed that the commission was now moving to the next stage regarding the latest round of remedies put forward by Google. He told us:

Almunia still wants a negotiated outcome for the case but that is dependent on being able to extract sufficient remedies from Google. Probably right now we're at a knife edge on that – and there'll probably be a market test next.

Wood added that it's possible that the commission would say to Google in effect "you've had plenty of opportunity to submit remedies and we're now moving to a Statement of Objections". However, he expects to see more remedies being batted back and forth before any such outcome.

Late last month, ICOMP claimed that Google's business tactics in Europe had breached Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU relating to anti-competitive agreements.

Wood reiterated that allegation today by claiming that Google had "unlawfully obtained" its dominant position in Europe - where it commands more than 90 per cent of the search market - by violating Article 101 of the EU's rules. ®

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