Google antitrust probe nears resolution

Google and the European Commission appear close to resolving the three-year antitrust investigation into the search giant’s dominance of the online advertising market here, with EU competition chief Joaquin Almunia suggesting a settlement may not be far off.

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Almunia today (1 October) said the antitrust investigation had reached a “key moment” after Google submitted revised concessions to how it displays its search and advertising results, indicating that Google may avoid formal censure.

The European Competition Commission may conclude the antitrust investigation without formal action by Spring next year provided Google can offer “empirical data” that satisfies complainants, and other interested parties, that Google’s updated proposals meet with EU requirements.

Almunia said: “Although I cannot describe the details, I can tell you that the new proposal more appropriately addresses the need for any commitments to be able to cover future developments.”

The investigation concerns charges, led primarily by Microsoft, that Google unfairly protects its dominance of the online advertising market by promoting its own services in its search results ahead of its rivals’. The charges also allege that Google unfairly restricted advertisers to porting their online ad campaigns to competing platforms in its terms and conditions.

This kicked off an antitrust investigation in November 2010, and up until July 2013, Almunia had expressed dissatisfaction with Google’s proposed amendments to its businesses practices, but its subsequent proposals appear to have with his approval.

Kent Walker, Google senior vice president and general counsel, says: “This has been a very long and very thorough investigation.  Given the feedback the European Commission received on our first proposal, they have insisted on further, significant changes to the way we display search results.

“While competition online is thriving, we’ve made the difficult decision to agree to their requirements in the interests of reaching a settlement.”

Elsewhere, it has also emerged that Google paid £12m in corporation tax in 2012 in the UK, despite revenues of £506m, according to documents filed with Companies House, further fuelling criticism over its tax practices here.

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