Google Antitrust Settlement Offer Rejected by EU’s Almunia

Google Inc. has only a “little time left” to settle a European Union probe after the bloc’s top antitrust official rejected the company’s latest proposal to resolve the three-year old dispute.

Joaquin Almunia, the EU’s competition commissioner, told Spanish radio that the latest offer by the world’s largest search engine was “not acceptable” and failed to address concerns that it may discriminate against rivals in its search results.

“The ball is still in Google’s court,” Almunia said, according to a transcript of the interview from his office. “Within a short timeframe, the ball will then be here and then it will be the moment to take decisions.”

Almunia sought in May of last year to reach a deal with Google over allegations that the company promotes its own services in search results, copies competitors travel reviews and has contracts that stifle rival advertisers. Opposition from Microsoft Corp., the world’s biggest software maker, and Expedia Inc., has scuttled at least two settlement offers from Google.

Google has made “significant changes to address the EC’s concerns, greatly increasing the visibility of rival services and addressing other specific issues,” Al Verney, a spokesman for the company in Brussels, said in an e-mailed statement. The Mountain View, California-based company said last month that concessions “weren’t easy to make” and aimed at avoiding a decade fighting with regulators.

Vertical Search

Almunia said Google’s current offer fails to eliminate possible problems on the way the company’s rivals “in vertical search” are “being treated.” This includes search services for products and price comparison and restaurants, he said.

David Wood, a lawyer for a group of Google rivals, said Almunia’s comments showed that the EU should abandon attempts to settle with Google and send the company a formal complaint.

“We believe strongly that the next step should be a full examination of all the pending complaints by means of a statement of objections,” said Wood, who represents the industry group ICOMP.

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