Google given ultimatum on EU competition concerns
by Daniel Mason
Internet search giant Google has been given "a matter of weeks" to respond to a series of concerns raised by the European Union's competition regulator if it wants to avoid formal proceedings and potential fines.
The EU's competition commissioner, Joaquín Almunia, said today that an ongoing antitrust investigation into Google had identified four business practices that might amount to abuse of its dominant market position. The case was launched in November 2010 following complaints by rivals including Microsoft.
The issues raised include Google promoting its own products in search results, "copying" original content from competitors without their permission, shutting rivals out of advertising services by agreeing exclusive deals with partner websites, and preventing advertisers moving campaigns to other search engines.
Almunia said he had given Google "a matter of weeks" to propose remedies, and urged the company to "seize this opportunity" to act "for the benefit of competition and innovation in the sector". He said that if Google provided solutions it would mean the case could be settled without the need for formal proceedings, an official statement of objections, and the imposition of remedies and fines by the EU.
"Google has repeatedly expressed to me its willingness to discuss any concerns that the European Commission might have without having to engage in adversarial proceedings," Almunia said. "This is why I am today giving Google an opportunity to offer remedies to address the concerns we have already identified."
He added that he preferred that such cases were dealt with speedily rather than dragging on for months and years. "I believe that these fast-moving markets would particularly benefit from a quick resolution of the competition issues identified. Restoring competition to the benefit of users at an early stage is always preferable to lengthy proceedings, although these sometimes become indispensable to competition enforcement."
Google spokesman Al Verney, quoted by the BBC, said the company disagreed with the conclusions but was "happy to discuss any concerns". He added: "Competition on the web has increased dramatically in the last two years since the commission started looking at this and the competitive pressures Google faces are tremendous."