Google agrees to concessions to halt antitrust probe

Google has submitted a package of concessions to the European Commission in the hope of settling a two-year antitrust investigation into whether it gives its own properties – such as YouTube, Shopping and Google+ – undue prominence in search results.

Google

It is understood Google has offered to label its own products in search results to make them stand out from rival services and impose fewer restrictions on advertisers when they choose to move to competing services, according to Reuters.

If Google reaches a settlement with the EC, it will avoid a fine up to $5bn (£3.2bn), or 10 per cent of its revenue in 2012.

The EC’s investigation was sparked by a series of complaints from rivals, including closest competitor Microsoft, who complained Google penalises competitors and bumps its own services to the top of search results.

The complaints escalated last month when a coalition of 11 European companies – including TripAdvisor, Streetmap and Expedia – wrote to EC competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia urging him to issue a “statement of objections” against Google’s “anti-competitive” practices.

The letter said: “Google must be even handed. It must hold all services, including its own, to exactly the same standards, using exactly the same crawling, indexing, ranking, display and penalty algorithms.”

The EC is now set to “market test” Google’s submission of commitments and seek feedback from other market players, including previous complainants, on its proposals. Any agreement reached will be legally binding.

A Google UK spokeswoman says: “We continue to work cooperatively with the European Commission.”

Google also faced similar issues in a US Federal Trade Commission antitrust investigation into the search giant, but the regulator found it did not bias its search results over competitors – although it also required concessions from the company.

Separately Google last night (11 April) became the first major company to launch a tool for users to decide what happens to their email, blog and social network data after they die.

The EU is current drafting changes to its Data Protection Regulation, which includes clauses on giving consumers a “right to be forgotten”.

Google has previously posted on its European Policy blog saying it is “supportive” of the principles behind the right to be forgotten and believes it is possible to implement in a way that enhances privacy online but also fosters free expression.

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