EU Antitrust Chief Offers Google Chance to Settle FairSearch Complaints

    May 21, 2012

Google’s received a little bit of respite to resolve complaints of antitrust practices in the European Union, according to the Wall Street Journal. The European Commission has given the company the opportunity to offer up some remedies to antitrust complaints brought up by FairSearch, a coalition of Google rivals that includes Microsoft, Expedia, and Travelocity who claim Google is suffocating business competition by steering users of the search engine to other Google products instead of the most appropriate product.

In a statement from the EU’s Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia, Google has expressed its willingness to work out a solution to the antitrust complaints in order to avoid any “adversarial proceedings” concerning four different areas of concern that could be argued as anticompetitive abuses. “I offer Google the possibility to come up in a matter of weeks with first proposals of remedies to address each of these points,” Almunia said.

Almunia went on to explain that the potential to resolve the antitrust complaints swiftly would avoid drawn out legal proceedings and ultimately be in the best interest of consumers. “I believe that these fast-moving markets would particularly benefit from a quick resolution of the competition issues identified,” he added.

The four areas of concern involve Google linking to its own vertical search services in search results, how Google uses content from competing vertical search services for its own purpose, use of search advertisement, and how AdSense prevents competitors from bidding on ad placement.

In February of this year, the FairSearch Coalition announced that it would be expanding its presence to Europe. Upon the creation of FairSearch Europe, the group’s EU Counsel Thomas Vinje stressed that consumers in Europe should not be left with only one choice, Google, when it comes to internet search.

Following Almunia’s invitation for Google to resolve the concerns from FairSearch, Vinje lauded the Commissioner’s decision as a validation of FairSearch’s complaints about Google’s practices. “FairSearch would welcome a rapid and permanent change in Google‟s business practices that could potentially result from a settlement between the European Commission and Google,” Vinje said. “We agree that a quick resolution to the harms that Google’s practices cause would be best for innovators and consumers.”

However, Vinje added that he hopes Google will be more cooperative with the EU than the company was recently with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. During an investigation over Google’s eavesdropping on unencrypted wireless networks, the FCC fined the company for deliberately delaying and impeding the investigation. “Any settlement between Google and the EC would need to restore lost competition and remedy the anticompetitive effects of Google’s conduct in both specialized and general search,” he added.

Almunia suggests that he believes that a common ground can be found between the EC and Google. “If Google comes up with an outline of remedies which are capable of addressing our concerns, I will instruct my staff to initiate the discussions in order to finalise a remedies package,” adding that any final proposals will need to be market-tested before they’re ratified by the Commission.

While Almunia’s timeline is somewhat vague in saying that Google has “weeks” to address the complaints, it’s probably safe to assume that the two parties will be communications directly to agree upon a targeted date.