EU Tells Google To Change Online Search, Or Face The Consequences

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Competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia once again tells Google to offer more concessions

The European Commission (EC) has asked Google to improve its peace offering, if it wants to avoid a massive fine for anti-competitive practices.

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, European Competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia said that Google’s proposals to improve competitiveness in the online search market didn’t go far enough.

Google is currently under investigation by the EC, after several of its rivals, including Microsoft, Foundem, Expedia and TripAdvisor complained that the company was giving preferential placement to its own services in both search results and sponsored listings.

Back to the drawing board

In 2010, the EC launched a formal investigation into whether Google had abused its dominant position in the online search market to shut out rivals in areas such as price comparison, navigation and advertising.

almuniaIn 2012, the watchdog gave Google a July deadline to provide a proposal that would resolve the antitrust investigation, warning that if it failed to do so, the US corporation could be fined as much as ten percent of its annual worldwide turnover.

Google denied any wrongdoing, but still decided to offer concessions in four key areas identified by the EC. Based on the feedback, the company had to repeatedly revise its proposals, submitting the latest version in April 2013.

Google has promised to clearly label its specialised services, separating them from competitors’ offerings, so it is obvious they are not part of “natural” search results. It will also display links to three rival specialised search services close to its own.

As far as its advertising business is concerned, the company agreed not to prevent its customers from sourcing online search ads from competitors. However, In May, Almunia said that he will “probably” ask the search giant to improve its proposals once more.

“After an analysis of the market test that was concluded on June 27, I concluded that the proposals that Google sent to us are not enough to overcome our concerns,” said the commissioner. “In this sense, I wrote a letter to Google, to Mr Schmidt [Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google], asking Google to present better proposals, to improve its proposal.”

A separate investigation is currently looking into Google’s unified privacy policy, which has angered regulators across Europe, including ICO in the UK. In June CNIL, the French organisation that leads the investigation, determined the company had breached the French Data Protection Act and gave it three months to revert the changes.

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