Google Lawyer Says EU Settlement Offer Is Fair to Rivals

Google's general counsel argues in a blog post that the company's settlement offer in the antitrust case addresses the EU's concerns, despite the concerns of rivals.

Google continues to work to get the European Union to agree to the company's latest offer to settle ongoing antitrust concerns in Europe, just a month after an EU leader said publicly that it appears that a workable settlement is approaching.

But competitors, including Microsoft, Expedia and British search services company, Foundem, continue to disagree, arguing instead that the latest recent settlement proposals from Google still don't level the playing field for rivals.

In response, Google's general counsel, Kent Walker, replied to the criticisms of those competitors in a Nov. 25 blog post by himself arguing that the latest Google settlement offer to the EU will resolve the concerns of the EU's regulatory arm, the European Commission, and its long-complaining business rivals.

"For the past two years we've worked closely with the European Commission to settle their inquiry into our search and advertising businesses," wrote Walker. "We've put a lot of effort into addressing the Commission's concerns, and earlier this year, after a good bit of back-and-forth with the Commission, we proposed a package of measures that the Commission felt comfortable testing in the marketplace."

Google then followed up, wrote Walker, after the European Commission asked his company to provide deeper concessions, such as "giving rival sites much more visibility in our search results." Those added conditions were included in Google's revised settlement offer, wrote Walker, "which broadens the scope of our offer and provides links to rival sites even more prominently in our search results."

The additional settlement conditions, presented in October, were then cited as helpful by the EU's Competition Commissioner, Joaquin Almunia, who added that they addressed many of the remaining issues and could soon lead to a final agreement to put the antitrust claims to rest. Also among the additional concessions are an agreement to include rival sites' logos with the more visible links for even greater prominence and the use of dynamic text from rivals to provide more information about their sites, wrote Walker.

"As European Commission Vice President Joaquin Almunia said in a recent speech, the issue is choice for consumers," wrote Walker. "We've worked closely with a knowledgeable and professional team at the Commission to deliver just that. Users will be presented with alternative specialized search options right in the middle of some of the most valuable and prominent space on our search page. It is hard to see how anybody could reasonably claim that this will not offer users choice."

Those additional concessions, according to Walker, were offered to finally help close the antitrust case in lieu of having to go to court. "These weren't easy concessions to make," he wrote. "Within Google, many asked why we would agree to such unprecedented and far-reaching changes to our continuously evolving search results. But we didn't want to spend a decade fighting over these issues. We wanted to move forward, letting our engineers continue to do what they do best: building products that help users in their everyday lives."

Instead, argued Walker, "we will never satisfy some critics, especially those with a professional and financial interest in impeding a successful competitor rather than helping users."

Google's rivals certainly have their own agendas in this fight, he said. "Some in the anti-Google camp have lobbied for remedies that would help themselves at a cost to consumers. Others have worked to prolong the process to keep us in regulatory limbo, filing new complaints timed to disrupt our settlement negotiations. These complainants continue to recycle claims with no basis in law or fact, while failing to present constructive or realistic suggestions that would benefit consumers."