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Google's Euro antitrust offer: Fine! We'll link to our search rivals

Competitors have a month to mull 'half-hearted' deal

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Google's rivals have been given one month to weigh up the advertising giant's now-public proposed changes to how it runs its European search business.

The deadline to "test" Google's offer of commitments was set by Brussels' competition chief Joaquin Almunia, who is investigating allegations that Google unfairly promotes its cloud-powered services over rivals' offerings in its search engine results. The internet titan is also accused of hoovering up material from its competitors and embedding it in its own websites.

"We hope to achieve a settled outcome and address each of the four concerns raised by the commission," a spokesman at Almunia's office said.

Google submitted a formal package of concessions to the European Commission to help draw the ongoing probe to an end, and these concessions have now been made public. The web giant offered, over a five-year period, to:

  1. label promoted links to its own specialised search services so that users can distinguish them from natural web search results,

    - clearly separate these promoted links from other web search results by clear graphical features (such as a frame), and

    - display links to three rival specialised search services close to its own services, in a place that is clearly visible to users;

  2. offer all websites the option to opt out from the use of all their content in Google's specialised search services, while ensuring that any opt-out does not unduly affect the ranking of those websites in Google's general web search results,

    - offer all specialised search websites that focus on product search or local search the option to mark certain categories of information in such a way that such information is not indexed or used by Google,

    - provide newspaper publishers with a mechanism allowing them to control on a per-web-page basis the display of their content in Google News;

  3. no longer include in its agreements with publishers any written or unwritten obligations that would require them to source online search advertisements exclusively from Google; and
  4. no longer impose obligations that would prevent advertisers from managing search advertising campaigns across competing advertising platforms.

The commission added that an independent monitoring trustee would closely watch Google to ensure that it sticks to its commitments.

Almunia's office said that - in its preliminary view - Google was found to be dominant in web search and search advertising.

"The commission has also reached the preliminary conclusion that in four areas Google may be abusing its dominant position in the European Economic Area (EEA). Such abuses would be in breach of Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union," the EC said.

A Google spokesman declined to comment on this story, but added: "We continue to work cooperatively with the European Commission."

UK-based price-comparison outfit Foundem, which was one of the original complainants in the competition case brought against Google, said it needed to analyse the ad giant's proposals.

"Instead of promising to end its abusive practices, Google’s proposal seems to offer a half-hearted attempt to dilute their anti-competitive effects, by labelling Google’s own services and throwing in some token links to competitors’ services alongside them," said Foundem boss Shivaun Raff.

"Without robust guidelines that guarantee the placement, depth, prominence, and relevance of these links, and guarantee that the selection of competitors will be free from anti-competitive penalties and discrimination, neither measure will make a dent in Google’s ability to hijack the traffic and revenues of its rivals." ®

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