Google CEO Eric Schmidt said the company may be open to tweaking its search algorithm as it seeks to head off an investigation by the European Commission, which is looking into whether the search engine violated competition law.
Schmidt, who is ceding his CEO title to co-founder Larry Page in April, told The Sunday Telegraph that Google did not want to become mired in an antitrust investigation where it could end up paying billions of dollars in fines.
"I think it is in our interests and I would hope in their interests to do a quick analysis of concerns that have been raised by competitors. Hopefully, they are minor or they are not correct, and we'll find out and make sure we are operating well within the law and the spirit of the law," Schmidt told the Telegraph.
Schmidt's comments came before Reuters reported that Google and the Commission are reportedly in tentative talks to resolve any antitrust probe.
The news comes a few months after the Commission vowed to investigate complaints by Foundem, eJustice and Microsoft's Ciao that Google was abusing its position as the world's leading search engine by favoring its own Web services over that of rival-product comparison Websites.
Such investigations can take several months, and can result in painful proceedings and fines, as Microsoft learned in the early part of last decade when the Commission fined it more than 1 billion dollars for violating competition laws for bundling software.
Google wants to avoid consuming the legal resources, time and money, and Schmidt told the Telegraph he hoped the Commission devised remedies for Google to weigh.
The newspaper said Google, which is very protective of its search technology, could be willing to alter its search algorithm so long as it serves the company's 1 billion-plus searchers without inviting more spam.
Search Engine Land noted that altering the algorithm in any significant way could trigger additional concerns for regulators in Europe and the U.S., where the government is more concerned with Google's privacy transgressions than it is about its search-engine policies.
While Schmidt's comments are official company statements, a Google spokesperson downplayed them, referring to the company's statement from November when it conceded the Commission was investigating it over complaints from competitors.
"Since we started Google, we have worked hard to do the right thing by our users and our industry-ensuring that ads are always clearly marked, making it easy for users to take their data with them when they switch services and investing heavily in open-source projects," the spokesperson said.
"But there's always going to be room for improvement, and so we'll be working with the Commission to address any concerns."