Google To Change Search Results Following EU Antitrust Agreement

Joaquin Almunia

European Commission orders Google to display links to competitor services

Google has settled a long-running EU antitrust case, with the European Commission (EC) agreeing to its latest proposals make its search results handle competitors’ services more fairly.

Google will have to make a number of changes to way its search engine operates,  giving more visibility to links that lead to specialised search services run by competitors, such as those for shopping or restaurants, according to the Financial Times reports.

However, in some situations Google’s competitors will have to enter an auction to pay for the links.

“We will be making significant changes to the way Google operates in Europe. We have been working with the European Commission to address issues they raised and look forward to resolving this matter,” Kent Walker, senior vice president and general counsel at Google, said in a statement.

The agreement was reached just weeks before the final deadline set by EU competition commissioner Joaquín Almunia. Once the deal receives final approval, Google will have avoided a potentially massive penalty – the EC is able to fine corporations up to ten percent of their annual worldwide revenue.

Illusion of choice

In November 2010, the EC launched a formal investigation into Google’s search products after receiving complaints from a number of its competitors including Microsoft, TripAdvisor, Nokia and Expedia.

Google-Search-iconThese companies claimed that Google had abused its dominant position in the online search market to shut out rivals in areas such as price comparison, navigation and advertising. Google accounts for around 90 percent of all searches in Europe and although it is not illegal to hold a monopoly, it is forbidden to abuse it.

In the course of negotiations Google missed several deadlines, tabled a total of three different proposals and even the company’s chairman Eric Schmidt got involved. In July 2012, it emerged that Google agreed to add Android to the list of platforms on which it would redesign the search algorithms.

Agreement was finally reached on Wednesday. According to the statement by Almunia, for the next five years, Google will have to feature links to services of at least three competitors “selected through an objective method” whenever it displays a link to its own specialised search service.

When Google is used for shopping search, rival links will have to be given more space, and product photos will have to be displayed the same way Google displays its own.

“This principle will apply not only for existing specialised search services, but also to changes in the presentation of those services and for future services,” said Almunia.

The fact that competing businesses will still have to pay for the links has been criticised as providing an additional revenue stream for Google.

As a result of the agreement, the company will not have to admit any wrongdoing.

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