EC Says Google Must Find ‘Remedies’ In Antitrust Probe

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined
as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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EC writes to Eric Schmidt saying Google must ease its concerns within “a matter of weeks”

The European Commission (EC) has given Google a “matter of weeks” to address a number of areas of its business that might be considered as “abuses of dominance”.

Joaquin Almunia, vice president of the European Commission responsible for competition policy, said that he had written to Google Chairman Eric Schmidt detailing the EC’s concerns and hoped that the search giant would seize the opportunity to swiftly resolve them “for the benefit of competition and innovation in the sector.”

Compromise Possible

“Restoring competition swiftly to the benefit of users at an early stage is always preferable to lengthy proceedings, although these sometimes become indispensable to competition enforcement,” said Almunia. “In this case, Google Inc. has repeatedly expressed to me its willingness to discuss any concerns that the Commission might have without having to engage in adversarial proceedings. This is why I am today giving Google an opportunity to offer remedies to address the concerns we have already identified.”

The EC’s concerns relate to search results and advertising. It says that for general search results, Google displays links to its own vertical search services differently to its competitors and that it also copies content from its rivals such as user reviews. The EC says that this could affect websites such as travel sites and restaurant guides. Google has also been the subject of an antitrust case in the US, and created a web page refuting the allegations.

“If Google comes up with an outline of remedies which are capable of addressing our concerns, I will instruct my staff to initiate the discussions in order to finalise a remedies package,” added Almunia.

Schmidt had previously indicated that he was willing to compromise on the matter.

The news was welcomed by the Initiative for a Competitive Online Marketplace (ICOMP).

“This implies that the Commission has found that Google’s behaviour constituted an abuse of its dominant position in the online search market,” commented David Wood, counsel for ICOMP. “For a number of years we have voiced our concerns that Google’s conduct violates European competition law. Google’s behaviour has caused significant harm to numerous businesses across the online ecosystem stifling innovation, competition and to the ultimate detriment of consumers and the European economy.”

“It is vital that the terms of any agreed settlement include measures to quickly redress the harm caused to European businesses and consumers and are sufficiently robust to ensure that such harm is not repeated,” he added. “We trust that this will prove to be the case and a competitive online market place will be restored.”

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