The European Union’s chief antitrust enforcer, Joaquin Almunia, says he wants to negotiate remedies with Google over four business practices that the E.U. has identified as being possible “abuses of dominance.”
The E.U. hopes to have a settlement in a few weeks, assuming that suitable remedies can be agreed upon and market-tested by Google before going live. In the absence of a settlement, the probe will continue. In his press statement, Almunia raised the prospect of sending Google a "statement of objections"--a binding decision that could lead to fines if sustained by a judge.
Almunia’s investigation, launched in November 2010, alleges that Google is giving its own vertical search services, such as those in travel and comparison shopping, preferred placement in general search results. Google’s practice of including excerpts from the content of competing sites in its own search results also attracted Almunia’s attention.
Almunia expressed concern that this practice of “appropriating the benefits of the investors of competitors” could discourage sites from producing original content
The E.U. is taking issue with Google’s lead in search advertising in two ways. First, Google’s dominance of the E.U. market for online search advertising has led to the company controlling the way that such advertising is bought and placed, creating a kind of “de facto exclusivity,” according to Almunia’s preliminary conclusions. Relatedly, Google’s AdWords platform lacks some interoperability and portability with competing platforms, putting restrictions on advertisers who want to download the search terms and other parameters of Google campaigns for use on competing search engines.
In his statement, Almunia stressed he would prefer a settlement to a protracted legal battle, and he said that Google has said as much as well. Google, he said, “has repeatedly expressed to me its willingness to discuss any concerns that the commission might have without having to engage in adversarial proceedings.”
“We've only just started to look through the commission’s arguments," Google responded in a statement. "We disagree with the conclusions, but we're happy to discuss any concerns they might have. Competition on the Web has increased dramatically in the last two years since the commission started looking at this, and the competitive pressures Google faces are tremendous. Innovation online has never been greater.”
Google is also the subject of a U.S. antitrust investigation by the Federal Trade Commission.