EU to Ask Google Rivals for Comments on Proposed Antitrust Settlement

The European Union is inviting Google's rivals, including Microsoft, Expedia and Foundem, to review the search giant's proposed antitrust offer.

legal settlement

The European Union has decided to ask Google's competitors for candid feedback on a proposed Google settlement offer that aims to resolve a three-year-old antitrust case against Google in Europe.

The feedback will be collected to help the EU make its decision on whether to accept Google's latest settlement offer, which came in late September.

The EU's call for comments from Google's competitors was reported Oct. 28 by Reuters.

"The Commission is sending today information requests," Antoine Colombani, spokesman for competition policy at the European Commission, which is the regulatory arm of the EU, told Reuters in an email. "Information is sought, in particular, from complainants in the ongoing proceedings and from all those who responded to the initial market test of Google's proposals which the Commission launched in April."

In early October, the EU's Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said publicly that the long-awaited settlement between Google and the EU appears to be in its final stages, according to an earlier eWEEK report. The first Google settlement proposals were rejected by the EU as not going far enough. Real progress came recently, according to Almunia, when Google again brought new proposals to the table in an effort to reach a binding settlement. At that time, Google did finally improve its settlement offer, which has led to promising negotiations between both sides since then.

At the time, Almunia didn't comment on the exact nature and specifics of the latest Google proposals, but he said they relate to issues, including how Google search will from now on handle "queries entered in Google in whatever form—whether they are typed or spoken—and irrespective of the entry point or the device." A key part of the new Google proposals relates to concerns about how Google search handles vertical searches, which was the point that received the strongest critical comments during the market test, he said.

One complaint from rivals in the antitrust investigation has been that Google's earlier proposals would highlight the links of competitors in searches, but they complained that such a move wouldn't be visible enough to make them stand out for users. That issue was apparently adequately resolved under the company's latest settlement offer.

As part of a settlement, an independent monitoring trustee would be put in place to ensure that Google will fulfill its commitments to the proposals once they are agreed on.

At the time, the EU announced that it would seek feedback from Google's competitors and related complainants about the new proposals, which is the step it is now taking.

In September, Google had submitted a fresh batch of concession proposals to the EU, but they failed to address the key concerns of the EU and the complainants in the case, which began in 2010.

Those proposals arrived two months after the EC had asked for more concession ideas from Google. The EC had been seeking Google's ideas on how it could settle complaints that the company was blocking competitors' results in Web searches in favor of its own results.

Google officials are under investigation in Europe regarding its search engine, which holds more than 60 percent of the search market, with Microsoft's Bing being a distant second. Competitors have claimed that Google works its search algorithms to favor its own products and results over those of others, giving it an unfair advantage in search and Web advertising.