E.U., Google hint settlement in antitrust case is near


Google and the European Union are nearing a settlement on antitrust complaints, officials said Tuesday. (Justin Sullivan/GETTY IMAGES)
October 1, 2013

The European Union and Google appear to be close to a final settlement over the tech firm’s search practices, which critics said violated antitrust law.

In a statement to the European Parliament, antitrust commissioner Joaquin Almunia said that the case has reached a “key moment.”

“[We] will work with Google during the next weeks to finalize the precise drafting of the proposed commitment text,” Almunia said, in remarks posted to Web site of the European Commission.

While he did not go into great detail about what the deal would look like, Almunia did broadly outline how it may look. Under the proposal, Google would change the format of its search results page by making links to competitor search engines “significantly more visible.” The company would also change some of its practices, Almunia said, to give competing search engines more control over how information from their sites appear on Google.

The agreement would also put an “independent monitoring trustee” in place to oversee how Google implements its proposals.

In a statement, Google said that making concessions in the matter allows the firm to put the issue to rest.

“This has been a very long and very thorough investigation,” said Google Senior Vice President and General Counsel Kent Walker, in a statement. “Given the feedback the European Commission received on our first proposal, they have insisted on further, significant changes to the way we display search results. While competition online is thriving, we’ve made the difficult decision to agree to their requirements in the interests of reaching a settlement.”

Google competitors such as Microsoft, Nokia, Oracle and Expedia, as part of an alliance called FairSearch, have been supporting the investigation but withheld judgement on the deal before learning more about the details.

“Until we have seen the details of Google’s proposed remedies, it would be irresponsible to comment on their content and potential for correcting the anti-competitive behavior identified by the European Commission in May 2012,” said FairSearch Europe legal counsel and spokesman Thomas Vinje in a statement. “However, for FairSearch Europe it is essential that the remedies install the principle of non-discrimination so that Google applies the same rules to its own services as it does to others when it returns and displays search results.”

In his remarks, Almunia said that he believes settling with Google is the best course of action to solve any issues as quickly as possible, rather than taking up the matter in court.

“European users want undistorted competition and choice in online search and search advertising,” he said. “They want it now and, if possible, deserve it now, and not after many years of litigation.”

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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