Google, EU Still Debating Changes As Antitrust Case Looms: Report

Google is freshening up its recent proposed concessions in an effort to circumvent formal antitrust charges in the European Union.

Two weeks after proposing search engine configuration changes that could help avoid formal charges by European antitrust regulators, Google has again updated its proposed changes in hopes of resolving the case.

"Google has submitted a revised package of concessions to address the concerns of Europe€™s top competition authority, bringing the talks to settle the EU antitrust investigation to a critical juncture," according to a report in The Financial Times.

Earlier this month, Google executives sent a list of initial concessions to address potential antitrust concerns from the European Union. At that time, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt sent a letter to the European Union€™s antitrust head, Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia, outlining steps the massive Web company would be willing to take to resolve the EU's concerns, including claims that it favors its own search results over others.

The EU investigation centers on what they regard as Google€™s dominant position in search.

Almunia in May had given Google officials until early July to address that and other concerns, including the use of material from other search engines in its results and its dominance in Web advertising, all of which investigators have said put competitors at an unfair advantage.

Since that time, Almunia again spoke to Google's Schmidt and "requested the U.S. group clarify some elements of its informal offer submitted two weeks ago," according to The Financial Times story. "The initial Google proposal came after Mr. Almunia delivered an ultimatum to the Internet search giant to change its business practices or face formal antitrust charges, a protracted legal dispute and the threat of multibillion dollar fines."

That request for clarifications "suggests Google€™s first offer was not on its own sufficient to be accepted as a 'serious and credible' overture to cease its allegedly anti-competitive behavior," the paper reported.

Neither side has been commenting publicly on either round of proposals.

Google officials are under investigation in Europe, the United States and elsewhere 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.

Meanwhile, regulators in the United States and abroad also have similar concerns that are being reviewed. In April, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced it had hired Beth Wilkinson€”a former federal prosecutor best known for directing the case against Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and his accomplice, Terry Nichols€”to head its investigation of Google. In Europe, officials with the FairSearch coalition said they also wanted to be part of the review process for the proposals Google has sent Almunia.

If a concessions package can be reached that is acceptable to both Google and the EU, then the company could potentially avert charges of anti-competitive behavior from the EU.

A guilty verdict on such charges could mean a fine of up to 10 percent of Google's annual revenue, which based on its 2011 annual results, would amount to about $4 billion, according to Reuters.