Google Outlines Proposals to EU to End Antitrust Probe

During the Google I/O conference in San Francisco. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Google Inc. outlined proposals to European Union regulators in an effort to end an antitrust investigation into allegations that the operator of the world’s largest search engine discriminates against rivals.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt sent EU antitrust chief Joaquin Almunia a letter responding to the probe, the EU said in a statement. The settlement offer addresses the “four areas the European Commission described” as potential concerns, Google spokesman Al Verney said in a separate e-mail. Details of the proposals weren’t disclosed.

Almunia in May asked Google to make an offer to settle concerns it promotes its own specialist search services, copies rivals’ travel and restaurant reviews, and that agreements with websites and software developers stifle competition in the advertising industry. He said last month he would send Google an antitrust complaint, that could lead to a fine or limits on conduct, if the proposal was unsatisfactory.

“Three of the four areas are relatively easy to address,” Greg Sterling, a senior analyst at Opus Research, said in a statement. “The ‘concern’ about placement of ‘Google content’ in search results is more problematic given that it goes to the heart of Google’s ability to control its search experience and algorithm.”

Global Regulators

Google, based in Mountain View, California, is under growing pressure from global regulators probing whether the company is thwarting competition in the market for Web searches. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission and antitrust agencies in Argentina and South Korea are also scrutinizing the company.

In 2010, regulators began investigating claims Google discriminated against other services in its search results and stopped some websites from accepting competitors’ ads.

While Microsoft Inc. and partner Yahoo! Inc. have about a quarter of the U.S. Web-search market, Google has almost 95 percent of the traffic in Europe, Microsoft said in a blog post last year, citing data from regulators.

Microsoft, maker of the Bing search engine, Foundem, a U.K. shopping website, and other companies filed complaints with the EU that triggered the probe.

“We hope the proposals reflect a greater willingness to end Google’s anti-competitive behavior than has its consistent rejection of the concerns that Mr. Almunia identified after collecting evidence for nearly two years,” said Thomas Vinje, a lawyer for the FairSearch Coalition, a group that represents Microsoft, Expedia Inc. and Foundem.

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