EU Defends Excluding Google’s Main Site From Settlement

European Union regulators defended their plan to exclude Google Inc.’s main search page from a proposed antitrust settlement, according to a letter they sent to an opponent.

Hot Maps, a German mapping firm, was told by the EU that searches wouldn’t be be covered because it gets less than 5 percent of user searches in Europe. The EU made the comments in a letter to Hot Maps outlining why regulators intend to reject its complaint about Google.

Google’s offer to auction off space on its search results page to specialized competitors will apply only to its European site, the EU said. Google will direct users to local sites and won’t make a link to “more conspicuous than at present,” regulators said in the letter released by Hot Maps.

Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia has pledged to read the responses to EU letters to 19 companies, trade and consumer groups that complained about Google before pressing ahead with a settlement without fining the search-engine giant, accused of discriminating against rivals.

Google diverted user traffic away from competing specialized search services by prominently displaying its own services, the EU said of its preliminary view of the case, started more than three years ago. This made Mountain View, California-based Google’s own specialized search services rank higher than those of rivals, it said.

Al Verney, a spokesman for Google in Brussels, didn’t immediately respond to a call and an e-mail seeking comment. Antoine Colombani, a spokesman for the European Commission, referred to comments made by Almunia last month when he said he wants to complete the settlement by the end of this year.