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Google May Make EU Antitrust Offer After Almunia Meeting

Google Inc. should send an offer to European Union regulators next month to settle its investigation, the EU’s antitrust chief said after meeting Google Chairman Eric Schmidt today.

EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said he expects “Google to come forward with a detailed commitment text in January” that would allow the Brussels-based authority to end the probe into allegations that the world’s largest search engine operator discriminates against rivals.

“I have decided to continue with the process towards reaching an agreement” to settle the investigation, Almunia said in an e-mailed statement. “Since our preliminary talks with Google started in July, we have substantially reduced our differences.”

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. Google is poised to offer voluntary concessions to U.S. authorities that would end a 20-month antitrust probe of its business practices without any enforcement action being taken, two people familiar with the matter said earlier this week.

Google’s offer would be sent to rivals and customers for comments before the EU could move to drop its two-year-old probe without imposing a fine or declaring that the company violated antitrust rules.

Google will “continue to work cooperatively with the commission,” Al Verney, a spokesman for Google in Brussels, said in a telephone interview.

EU Probe

Almunia said the EU was concerned about the way Google’s specialist search-services are promoted above those of rivals, how it uses and displays other content on search services, its exclusive agreements with websites that show search ads and restrictions that reduce advertisers’ ability to shift ad campaigns from Google’s AdWords platform.

Google in July outlined a proposal to end the EU antitrust investigation. Almunia has previously said that he would send Google a formal antitrust complaint if the company’s proposal was unsatisfactory. He warned that settlements couldn’t go on indefinitely.

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