Google will make changes to how it displays its search results in Europe to mollify European regulators who have been investigating antitrust allegations against the company since 2010.
Under the deal, Google will provide better labeling of its own promoted content and will improve how it displays links to competitors’ online ads, according to an April 25 report by The Associated Press.
The details were released by the European Commission, which is the executive and regulatory arm of the European Union, as the EC continues to work with Google on concessions that will resolve the case.
Under the deal, “Google has offered to more clearly label search results stemming from its own services such as Google News, Google Maps or its shopping and flight search functions,” the story reported. “That would allow users to distinguish between natural search results and others promoted by Google. It also agreed to display some search results from its competitors and links to their services.”
Proposed under the deal is a plan for a monthlong “market test” of the arrangement to provide competitors, many of whom are behind the antitrust complaints against Google, some time to offer their input into whether the proposed changes are sufficient, the story said. “The objective of this process is to try to see if we can achieve a settled outcome in this antitrust investigation,” EC spokesman Antoine Colombani told the AP.
The conditions being laid out by Google and the EC would be in force for five years, according to the story. “If the deal is accepted, Google would avoid a fine and a finding of wrongdoing,” which has huge implications for the company.
“If Google were then to break its commitments, the Commission could impose a fine of up to 10 percent of its annual worldwide revenue — that would be close to a whopping $5 billion in Google’s case,” the AP reported. Google will “clearly separate promoted links from other web search results by clear graphical features” and “display links to three rival specialized search services close to its own services, in a place that is clearly visible to users.”
Another change under the proposals is that Google will allow Websites to keep their content out of Google’s specialized search services, “while ensuring that any opt-out does not unduly affect the ranking of those web sites in Google’s general web search results,” according to the report.
The new details surrounding the Google proposals come several weeks after reports began surfacing about a potential deal between the search giant and the EC being accepted to resolve the antitrust allegations.
Under the deal, Google won’t have to change the algorithm that produces its search results.
Google, EU Deal on Search Includes Search Display Changes
The settlement stems from claims by Google competitors that have long complained that Google favors its own search results over theirs. Those complaints led to the investigation by the EC.
The EU had received a collection of antitrust remedy proposals from Google in late January and was reviewing them to determine if the matter could be resolved through a settlement. Google had been trying to come up with proposed remedies for some time that would satisfy EU regulators and persuade them to close their case against the search giant. Google had sent previous lists of proposals to the EU in the summer of 2012, but those earlier proposals failed to satisfy European regulators. Google was given more time—until this past Jan. 31—to submit new proposals.
The EU investigation centers on what regulators regard as Google’s dominant position in search.
Google holds more than 60 percent of the world’s 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.
Google’s legal situation in Europe continues even as a similar antitrust probe in the United States was resolved in Google’s favor in January. Instead of a major antitrust prosecution in the United States, Google entered into a voluntary agreement with the Federal Trade Commission to change some of its business practices to resolve the complaints of some competitors about Google’s practices.
In the FTC case, key competitor Microsoft had led a fight with other technology companies to argue for strong FTC actions against Google to punish it for what they believed were unfair business practices.
Those competitors, meanwhile, launched a fresh new offensive against Google in the EU earlier this month by filing a complaint with the EU concerning Google’s free Android mobile operating system. The complaint argues that Android is illegally trying to dominate the market through deception and predatory pricing.
The new complaint was filed by a group called FairSearch Europe with the EC even as the EU continued its almost two-year-long probe into Google’s search practices in Europe. The group alleged in its complaint that Google is following an “anti-competitive strategy to dominate the mobile marketplace and cement its control over consumer Internet data for online advertising as usage shifts to mobile.”
The complaint before the EC comes as the marketplace rivalry between Google and Microsoft appears to be growing exponentially. In early March, reports surfaced that it was Google that had turned Microsoft in involving a recent case in which Microsoft had failed to offer a choice of Web browsers to early users of its Windows 7 computer operating system, which the company must do as part of a 2009 settlement regarding the same issue. In that case, the EU fined Microsoft $732 million.