EU Gives Google a Chance to Steer Clear of Fines Over Four Antitrust Issues

Google has just a few weeks to suggest remedies to the European Commission's concerns
By Loek Essers
News May 22nd 2012

Google has "a matter of weeks" to address four antitrust issues identified by European Union antitrust regulators. If Google addresses these issues the case can be solved by a so-called "commitment decision" instead of formal antitrust proceedings resulting in a fine, said JoaquĆ­n Almunia, Vice President of the European Commission responsible for Competition Policy.

The Commission began an antitrust investigation of Google's activities in November 2010, and has now concluded that Google may be considered to have abused its market dominance in four areas, Almunia said in a statement on Monday.

First of all it displays links to its own vertical search services that focus on specific topics such as restaurants or news alongside the general search service. Those links are displayed differently than links from competitors who offer similar vertical search services, said Almunia.

"We are concerned that this may result in preferential treatment compared to those of competing services, which may be hurt as a consequence," he said.

The second concern is Google's practice of copying content such as user reviews from competitors to display that on their own site without authorisation. By doing this Google is appropriating the benefits of the investments competitors made, and this could reduce competitors' incentive to invest, Almunia said, citing possible impact on travel sites or sites that provide restaurant guides.

The third antitrust issue concerns agreements between Google and partners that use Google searches on their websites, where Google ads are displayed next to the search results.