Google Makes Proposal to European Commission in Response to Anti-Trust Probe

Michael Teague  |

Three years into a European Union anti-trust investigation into whether Google (GOOG) designs its searches to discriminate against its rivals, the tech giant has reportedly submitted a proposal to the European Commission to make changes to the way it displays search results.

The terms of the offer have Google making clearer distinctions between the services it provides and those of its competitors, as well as making links to competing search engines available.

The tech giant’s efforts are a formal response to the EU Commission’s concerns about Google prioritizing its own advertisers in its search results, while pushing competitors to lower listings. Joaquin Almunia, the EU Competition Commissioner, said that a market test would be the next step in order to “seek feedback from market players, including complainants, on these commitment proposals.”

The market test will allow a list of companies who had previously filed complaints with the EU to provide feedback on Google’s proposed fixes to what they see as anti-competitive behavior on the part of the company.

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The decision comes after the U.S. Federal Trade Commission last January concluded its own 20-month investigation into the same issues, saying that the company was more concerned about improving search results and user experience rather than unfairly blocking out the competition.

While Google’s percentage of the web-search market in the United States is around 80 percent, this figure jumps to 95 percent for traffic in Europe.

While the EU seems prepared to accept Google’s proposed changes, the company’s opponents have not been as quick to accept.

The FairSearch coalition, a group of tech companies that includes Microsoft (MSFT) and Expedia (EXPE) who were among the groups behind the search-discrimination filings, have also filed anti-trust complaints about the company’s Android operating system for mobile phones.

David Wood, a lawyer for the Brussels industry group ICOMP as well as Thomas Vinjie, a lawyer for the FairSearch Coalition, have both indicated that for any settlement to be truly worthwhile, Google would have to apply their new labeling proposal on a global level and not just throughout the European Union.

Any final agreement would be legally binding for 5 years, would require third party monitoring, and could see Google hit with a hefty 10 percent fine on annual sales if the company does not manage to keep up with the terms of the new arrangement.

The company closed Monday at a loss of 1.03 percent, to $781.93.

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