Google aims to defuse European antitrust investigation with new proposal

Google sought to defuse a wide-ranging antitrust investigation in Europe on Monday with a proposal addressing claims that the company was using its power over the Internet search market to squeeze competitors in other industries.

The proposal came in response to preliminary findings that the search giant’s business practices may have amounted to “abuses of dominance,” a key concept in antitrust law in Europe.

Regulators there have emerged in recent years as perhaps the most forceful check on U.S. technology companies with growing worldwide markets.

“We have made a proposal to address the four areas the European Commission described as potential concerns,” Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., said in a statement. “We continue to work cooperatively with the commission.”

Company officials declined to elaborate on the statement or to release the proposal.

Commission Vice President Joaquin Almunia, Europe’s top antitrust official, in May called on Google to suggest proposals to change potentially abusive business practices.

The most serious, analysts say, concerns how Google lists its own direct links to products and services, compared with those offered by competitors.

Travel companies, such as Expedia and TripAdvisor, have complained that Google’s direct links to airfares push down their results in searches, costing them customers. They have joined Microsoft, which runs the rival Bing search engine, in FairSearch.org, an industry group critical of Google’s business practices.

The European Commission can fine companies as much as 10 percent of annual revenue for antitrust violations; for Google, that could be nearly $4 billion. The investigation began in November 2010.

“They have a lot to lose should the public begin to believe that they are gaming or fiddling with the results,” said Nicolas Petit, a professor at Belgium’s University of Liege Law School.

Craig Timberg is a national technology reporter for The Post.
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