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Google's secret search offer to EU antitrust chief LEAKED by rivals

REVEALED: Ad giant is now Trigger happy

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Google may have struck a deal with Brussels' competition chief to keep details of the ad giant's revised package of concessions over its search biz secret, but - perhaps inevitably - a copy of the offer has been leaked to The Register and other publications.

An unnamed party sent El Reg a document containing 15 questions that the antitrust commissioner Joaquin Almunia's office submitted to complainants in the case and “interested stakeholders” (read: rivals) on 21 October.

They were told to respond to the list of questions by 25 November and to keep the details private.

But the confidentiality clause has, it would seem, been broken. Our source told us why the documents - which included a copy of what appears to be Google's revised offer to the Commission, revealing (among other things) that the word "link" has been changed to the word "trigger" throughout - have been set free:

It is a muzzle hindering the complainants to publicly speak out again [about] what is not right with the proposal this time.

El Reg heard that Google had apparently failed to provide evidence or empirical data, even though our tipster, at least, is convinced that Google tested its offer on its search engine before drafting the commitments.

Questions put to complainants and Google's enemies by EC officials include asking if Mountain View has covered all entry points for searches on its service. Elsewhere, it asks respondents about click-through rates, the visibility of rival links and for some to provide the average revenue per visit on each specialised web search service for traffic coming from Google.

Our source claimed that the changes submitted by Google's lawyers to Almunia were "trivial." We were told, among other things, that the proposals remained peppered with problems. Here's one such example, according to the tipster:

Another commitment, to make the settlement binding for all forms of input, such as typing and voice commands, closes a small loophole, but another one is still gaping: Under this settlement proposal, Google is free to redirect its European sites overnight from the national domains such as Google.fr to .com and use Google.com/fr. Then all commitments will be without effect.

Almunia's spokesman had not responded to our request for comment at time of writing.

Earlier today, Consumer Watchdog said it too was in possession of Google's confidential offer to the EC. It has threatened to publish the documents later today.

Almunia first opened a formal investigation of Google's alleged abuse of its dominant search business in Europe three years ago. The commissioner has said that he would prefer to avoid bringing sanctions against the ad giant in the hope of restoring competition quickly in a fast-moving market. ®

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