Google Antitrust Probe Should Settle, EU Regulator Says

The European Union’s antitrust chief said he’d rather settle an antitrust probe over claims Google Inc. discriminates against rivals than pursue an enforcement action against the world’s largest Web-search engine.

“In these fast-moving markets with new activities, new products and new services, I prefer to find remedies as soon as possible and this is easier,” EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said today in an interview, referring to a settlement.

Earlier this month, Google outlined a proposal to end the EU antitrust investigation. The probe is reviewing allegations that the company promotes its own specialist search-services, copies rivals’ travel and restaurant reviews, and has agreements with websites and software developers that stifle competition in the advertising industry.

Almunia said last month he would send Google an antitrust complaint if the proposed accord didn’t eliminate the issues identified by the EU. Such a complaint could lead to a fine or limits on conduct.

Regulators are seeking “to clarify some of the aspects of the answers we received from Google,” Almunia said. “We have not yet concluded our conversation, but I hope that in the near future we will finally decide” whether to settle the probe or send a statement of objections.

The Financial Times reported earlier today that Google submitted revised concessions to the European Commission.

Al Verney, a spokesman for Google in Brussels, declined to comment on any new offer. Google is cooperating with the commission, he said.

Google, based in Mountain View, California, is under growing pressure from global regulators probing whether it’s 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.

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.

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