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Tuesday, October 01, 2013
Google Close To Settlement With EU


The European Union seems to be ready to accept Google's commitments to address antitrust concerns related to the world's most populat web search engine, the EU's competition chief said.

EU's antitrust regulator has asked the world's most popular search engine for more measures to address concerns it was blocking competitors, including Microsoft, in search results.

During a European Parliament hearing, Joaquin Almunia, Vice President of the European Commission responsible for Competition Policy, said that Google has improved the commitments it has offered and that negotiations continue.

Although Almunia did not describe the details, he said that "the new proposal more appropriately addresses the need for any commitments to be able to cover future developments. Therefore, the new proposal relates to queries entered in Google in whatever form - whether they are typed or spoken - and irrespective of the entry point or the device."

One of the most significant improvements relates to the vertical search concern, which was the point that received the strongest critical comments, according to Almunia.

In Google proposal's the links to rivals that would be displayed for certain categories of specialised search services were not visible enough. Almunia says that the new proposal makes these links significantly more visible. "A larger space of the Google search result page is dedicated to them. Rivals have the possibility to display their logo next to the link, and there will be a dynamic text associated to each rival link to better inform the user of its content."

Google's new proposal also foresees an auction mechanism to determine the rival links that would be displayed on Google's search results page for the most commercial categories of specialised search services. The auction mechanism includes the option to bid for each specific query. This would ensure that smaller specialized search operators can be displayed.

As regards a concern related to the use of content produced by others - Google has improved the granularity of the opt-out that is offered to third party web sites. It also tightens the provision that ensures that Google cannot retaliate against web sites that make use of the opt-out.

Google has also committed to no longer include in its agreements with publishers any provisions or impose any unwritten obligations that would require publishers to source their requirements for online search advertisements exclusively from Google in relation to queries from EEA users.

Google has also offered to cease to impose any written or unwritten obligations that will prevent advertisers from porting and managing search advertising campaigns across Google's services and competing services.

"We have reached a key moment in this case," Almunia said. "Now with the significant improvements on the table I think we have the possibility to work again.

"If our investigation of this improved proposal is satisfactory then we will continue the commitments route and end up with a formal decision next spring," he said, adding: "I think that the settlement route remains the best choice."

The EU investigation into complaints that Google was blocking competitors in order to avert a possible $5 billion fine has been running for three years.

Other antitrust cases that are being investigated by the Euripean Commission also involve Google but relate to different types of competition concerns.

One is about some of the standard essential patents owned by Google's Motorola unit in the telecommunications sector and the way in which Google Motorola sought an injunction against a willing licensee; this investigation is well-advanced and an Oral Hearing took place yesterday.

Another investigation which is at a preliminary stage concerns the allegations received about some aspects of the Android ecosystem.



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