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Foundem urges Brussels: REJECT Google's search biz offer

Argues some tweaks make it even more anti-competitive

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UK-based price-comparison site Foundem has urged competition officials in Brussels to reject Google's formal offer of concessions, which is intended to address the ad giant's alleged abuse of dominance in Europe's search market.

Google commands a hefty 90 per cent share of the search business in the European Union. In April, its competitors were given one month to weigh up Google's proposed changes to how it runs its search engine in the 27-member bloc.

Foundem, however, argued today that Google's submission to Joaquin Almunia's office could fail to restore competition and in fact make matters worse for the multi-billion dollar corporation's rivals.

In an initial response to Google's proposals to the commission (PDF), Foundem co-founders Adam and Shivaun Raff said:

There are many problems with Google’s proposals. But one fundamental flaw undermines every clause: the proposals ignore the natural search results and AdWords listings that Google is being charged with manipulating.

Instead, Google’s proposals focus exclusively on minor alterations to its self-serving Universal Search inserts. This fundamental flaw means that Google’s proposals cannot alleviate either aspect of the Commission’s concerns regarding search manipulation.

The proposed changes would have no impact on Google’s ability to systematically penalise rivals in its natural search results and would do nothing to curtail the unassailable advantage that Universal Search affords Google’s own services. In fact, in many important respects, the proposed changes would make things considerably worse.

Foundem further claimed that the commission would "unwittingly" help Google "in its long running strategy to transition commercial searches away from its natural search results and into its paid advertisements".

The Raffs argued that, if Almunia were to accept the proposals, Google would begin to profit from the traffic it sends to its rivals by replicating its AdWords model.

Google has offered to clearly label its individual services as a Google property on its search engine. The giant said that if a deal is struck with the commission, it would explain to netizens why it is linking to a Google product on its site.

Importantly, Google still plans to have its services ranking as highly as possible on its search engine, but says it will tell its users that alternative links to rival products are available.

Foundem complained on Tuesday morning that the company's strategy continues to be "anti-competitive" as it fails to address its ad listings and natural search results. The price comparison site also described the offer tabled with Almunia as one that seeks to "legitimise" Google's alleged abusive business practices in the EU.

On 25 April, netizens and Google's rivals in the search market were told to respond to the ad giant's proposals within one month to help the commission gather feedback about Mountain View's planned "concessions".

Foundem said today:

We will have to wait for the market test to play out, but, at the moment, we can see no reasonable alternative for the commission other than to reject the proposals, issues its Statement of Objections, and insist on remedies that will end, rather than escalate, the abusive practices it has identified.

Notwithstanding protests from the likes of Foundem, the commission - after reviewing the feedback - could still proceed later this year with a legally-binding settlement with Google that stops far short of sanctions. ®

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