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Google Would Cut Minimum Levy on Rivals to Settle EU Probe

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Oct. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Google Inc. cut the minimum amount it would seek to charge competitors to show their links in its latest offer to settle a European Union antitrust probe, according to an EU official.

While the minimum reserve price to bid for links to appear as an answer to specialized search queries would go down to 3 euro cents ($0.04) per click from 10 euro cents or less, users would have the option to hide alternative search sites, said the official, who isn’t authorized to be cited by name, in line with EU policy.

The change adds to Google’s earlier offer under which the pricing process would only apply to search queries that trigger specialized advertising services like Google Shopping. Competitors of Google, the world’s largest search engine, got details of the company’s revised proposal today.

The latest round of commitments may allow EU regulators to end a three-year probe into how Google promotes its specialist search services, such as Google News and Google Finance, copies competitors’ travel and restaurant reviews, and has agreements with websites and software developers that stifle competition in the advertising industry. A group representing Microsoft Corp., Expedia Inc. and Nokia Oyj said the offer still isn’t enough and should be made public.

“The commission sent 125 copies of the proposal to organisations, along with a group of questions -- and the requirement that we all keep everything confidential,” Thomas Vinje, a Brussels-based lawyer for FairSearch Europe, said in a statement. “Daylight will prove Google’s point if it is right.”

Significant Changes

Google, based in Mountain View, California, said that it has made significant changes to its offer to address the EU’s concerns, including increasing the visibility of rival services.

Following the bidding process, three rival links would appear without the user having to scroll down, the EU official said.

“Unfortunately, our competitors seem less interested in resolving things than in entangling us in a never-ending dispute,” Al Verney, a Brussels-based spokesman for Google, said in a statement.

The EU sent the latest version of the Google offer to all companies and groups that responded to the previous commitments earlier this year. They all have four weeks to reply.

‘Restore Competition’

Michael Weber, director of hot-map.com, said it’s “astonishing that many of the issues that deal with mapping aren’t even touched upon” in the 96-page document he received from EU regulators.

“If Google offers its aggrieved small rivals to bid against each other and pay per-click for slightly enhanced so-called rival ‘links’ beneath Google Maps’ billboards, Google will cash in on its antitrust settlement,” Weber said in an e-mail. “I don’t see how that is possibly going to restore competition.”

Almunia has said positive feedback would allow him to make the new offer legally binding for five years. He said this month that he’d sought the improvements after “very negative” responses from rivals to an offer Google made earlier this year.

Google’s offer covers the European mobile and desktop versions of its search web page and won’t affect its Google.com which targets a U.S. audience.

A settlement won’t involve a separate complaint into Google’s Android operating system.

To contact the reporters on this story: Aoife White in Brussels at awhite62@bloomberg.net; Gaspard Sebag in Brussels at gsebag@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net

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