Google Faces Renewed Focus by EU in Antitrust Case

Google could need to agree to additional conditions as part of a proposed antitrust settlement agreement in the EU that has been on the table for five months.


For five months, a proposed antitrust settlement deal between Google and European Union regulators has been on the table, but critics have continued to argue that it is not tough enough on Google. Now EU officials may be moving to ask more of Google to settle the case in response to such criticisms.

The potential call for additional settlement conditions from Google was reported July 23 in a story by Bloomberg, which said that the search giant "may need to make extra concessions to European Union regulators to rescue an antitrust settlement that faces opposition from technology companies and politicians, a person familiar with the case said."

One of the additional conditions from the EU could be that Google would have to change "how data from competing services are displayed along with search results, said the person who asked not to be identified because the decision isn't final," the report said. "Other modifications may include addressing how YouTube content is presented in reply to search requests and changes to a paid auction for rivals to bid on search links, the person said."

The still-pending settlement between Google and the EU was announced in February 2014 to resolve an antitrust case that has lingered since November 2010 in Europe, where Google competitors had alleged that Google's search processes unfairly promoted Google's advertisers at the expense of competitors. The proposed settlement, which still faces formal final approval by the EU and its regulatory arm, the European Commission (EC), includes concessions from Google on how it will display competitors' links through the Google search engine. The EU probe had been sought by Google competitors, including Microsoft, Expedia and British search services company Foundem. The pending agreement calls for Google to change its display practices, but not have to pay a fine that could have amounted to as much as $5 billion.

Earlier in July, online restaurant and business review service Yelp joined the list of settlement critics and entered its own objections to the settlement proposal as it stands, according to a recent eWEEK report. A Yelp spokesman previously declined to comment on the company's recent objections to the proposed settlement.

The growing body of critics of the proposed settlement continues to be unhappy with the proposal, arguing that they are not being given the chance to give input on the deal. Under the terms of the apparent settlement with the EU, Google will more clearly identify its own paid ad content from its own customers when displaying search content to users and will display them with unique identifications and separate placement to make their presence clearer to users.

The settlement dance between the EU and Google in that case has been ongoing since at least early 2013, when it appeared that the two sides were close to a tentative deal. Similar rumors about settlements also surfaced in November 2013, but competitors, including Microsoft, Expedia and Foundem, often criticized the proposals that arose in the past, arguing that they still didn't go far enough to level the playing field for rivals.

In October 2013, after Google had submitted an earlier settlement offer, the EU asked Google rivals for their opinions on the offer from Google. Those rivals loudly criticized the company's proposals at the time. In September 2013, 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.

Google has been under investigation in Europe since 2010 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.

In June, Google also became the focus of a new antitrust complaint filed by Portugal-based app store vendor Aptoide. The complaint comes on the heels of other existing antitrust matters plaguing the search giant in Europe. Aptoide argues in that case that Google's actions target independent app stores in an effort to make them less competitive.

In March, it was announced that Google is facing antitrust fines of $5 billion in India, where the company has been the subject of an antitrust investigation for some two years. The probe is being conducted by the Competition Commission of India (CCI), a government watchdog agency that monitors business practices to ensure fair competition.