Google Formalizes Settlement Offer to EU in Antitrust Probe

Google Inc. submitted a formal set of remedies to the European Union that will soon be shown to rivals and customers as part of settlement talks to end a two-year probe into claims its search results discriminate against competitors.

The EU’s goal is to “secure legally binding commitments” from Google as part of the settlement negotiations, EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia told reporters in Washington today. European users should have the “widest possible choice in search,” he said. A settlement would allow the Mountain View, California-based company to avoid possible fines for abusing its dominance.

“Google has a lot more market power in Europe than in the U.S., more than 90 percent,” Almunia said. “To avoid abuse we need to guarantee that users of the search engine have a choice and that search results have the highest possible quality.”

The European Commission is investigating Google’s search business and its rivals have made nearly weekly entreaties to the EU regulator to take action. Google at the end of January submitted an initial offer to settle the antitrust probe after Almunia asked it to address allegations that it 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.

Market Test

“In the last few weeks, the commission completed its preliminary assessment formally setting out its concerns,” Antoine Colombani, a spokesman for Almunia, said by e-mail. “On this basis, Google then made a formal submission of commitments to the commission. We are now preparing the launch of a market test to seek feedback from market players, including complainants, on these commitment proposals.”

Almunia said he wants to resolve the Google probe by the end of the year and won’t make a decision on whether the proposals are acceptable until he’s had them market tested.

“We continue to work cooperatively” with the commission, said Al Verney, a spokesman for the company in Brussels.

The U.S. ended an investigation into Google’s search business in January, saying there was no evidence that the company’s actions harmed consumers.

Almunia also said today he hasn’t yet decided whether an investigation of the use of patent injunctions by Google’s Motorola Mobility unit may also be settled.