Google Rivals Urge EU Regulators to Reject Antitrust Settlement

Google Inc. rivals urged the European Union to reject the company’s bid to settle an antitrust probe, saying the proposed changes to its Internet search services are “totally inadequate.”

The proposed settlement will still give Google “too much scope” to prioritize its own products, according to the companies, which filed complaints that triggered the initial EU investigation. The EU has said Google is dominant in Web search and search advertising in Europe and that the Mountain View, California-based company may harm competition.

While EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia has sought a deal to end the case, Google rivals have stepped up pressure to block any settlement. The commission has received “very negative” feedback from Microsoft Corp. and other companies, Cecilio Madero, the EU’s deputy director-general for antitrust, said in Brussels today.

“We expect that the commission will reject them in their entirety,” Sylvie Fodor, executive director of the Centre of the Picture Industry, said on a joint conference call with other complainants today.

Google, the owner of the world’s largest search engine, in April offered to label its branded search services and show links “to three rival specialized search services close to its own” as part of a series of commitments to end the almost three-year-old probe. Rivals and users have until June 27 to send comments on the proposed remedies.

Almunia said last month that his office will analyze the responses from consumer and industry groups as part of a market test and that it’s almost certain that Google will be told to “improve your proposals.”

‘Inadequate’ Commitments

“We consider the commitments, in total, inadequate to end the concerns,” Moritz von Merveldt, head of antitrust in the legal department of ProSiebenSat.1 Media AG, said on the call.

Google’s remedies seek to address allegations that the company promotes its own products, such as Google News and Google Finance, in search results, and copies rivals’ travel and restaurant reviews. The EU also says Google has agreements with websites and software developers that stifle competition for advertising.

Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president and general counsel, in a blog posting yesterday said Google is seeking a “sensible solution” and thinks “we did a pretty good job” in addressing the commission’s concerns.

European publishers also urged Almunia to reject the proposals “outright.”

“If Google does not come up with fundamentally improved proposals very soon, we call on the commission to use its full legal powers, including an immediate statement of objections with effective remedies,” Hubert Burda, president of the German magazine publishers’ association, said in an e-mailed statement today.

The conference call today was organized by the FairSearch Coalition, which represents technology companies including Microsoft, Expedia Inc. and Nokia Oyj.