Google Said to Offer Search Page Change to Settle Probe

Google Inc., operator of the world’s largest Internet search engine, offered to change how it operates in a bid to settle a three-year European Union antitrust investigation into whether it discriminates against rivals, a person familiar with the matter said.

Google submitted a final package of commitments to the European Commission aimed at creating more distinction in Internet searches between Google’s own services and those of its competitors, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the offer isn’t public. Google also proposed to offer links to rival search engines, the person said. An EU spokesman declined to comment on the offer.

Google’s offer this month formalized a package of remedies it submitted to EU regulators earlier this year after it was asked 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.

“In the last few weeks, the commission completed its preliminary assessment formally setting out its concerns,” Antoine Colombani, a spokesman for EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia, said by e-mail on April 11. “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.”

Market Test

The market test of the remedies could start as soon as next week, said the person familiar with the offer. Colombani declined to provide details of the offer, as published in the Financial Times today. Al Verney, a spokesman for Google in Brussels, reiterated the company’s usual statement about the probe that it’s cooperating with the European Commission.

An EU settlement avoids any decision on whether a company broke antitrust rules. Companies can be fined as much as 10 percent of their annual revenue if they break the terms of a legally binding settlement. Almunia first told Mountain View, California-based Google in May 2012 that he wanted to settle the investigation.

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