Europe Waits For Google To Revise Antitrust Proposals

European Commission antitrust chief Joaquin Almunia spoke to the press today in Brussels, indicating that he’s waiting on Google to revise proposals it recently submitted to end a lengthy antitr...
Europe Waits For Google To Revise Antitrust Proposals
Written by Chris Crum
  • European Commission antitrust chief Joaquin Almunia spoke to the press today in Brussels, indicating that he’s waiting on Google to revise proposals it recently submitted to end a lengthy antitrust probe in Europe.

    Back in April, the Commission released public documents discussing Google’s proposals, and giving competitors time to share their feedback during a market test period, which ended in late June. Unsurprisingly, Google’s proposals did not go far enough to make competitors happy, nor did they go far enough to make the Commission happy, so now the Commission is waiting on Google to go further.

    TechCrunch quotes Almunia as saying, “After the analysis of the results of the market test that concluded last month [June 27], I concluded that the proposals that Google sent to us months ago are not enough to overcome our concerns…I wrote a letter to Mr Schmidt asking Google for more improvements.”

    Google’s proposals included the labeling of promoted links, offering an opt-out option for its vertical search services, stopping the inclusion of obligations for partners to source online ads exclusively to Google, and no longer imposing obligations preventing advertisers from managing search campaigns across competing ad platforms. You can read about them in more detail here.

    Once the market test ended, Google patted itself on the back for “doing a good job” with its proposals with a blog post titled, “Answers People Want“.

    “Our proposals are meaningful and comprehensive, providing additional choice and information while also leaving room for future innovation,” Google SVP and General Counsel Kent Walker wrote. “As we’ve always said, we build Google for users, not websites. And we don’t want to hamper the very innovations that people like best about Google’s services. That’s why we focused on addressing the Commission’s specific concerns, and we think we did a pretty good job.”

    “The Internet is the greatest level playing field ever,” he said. “More and more, people are voting with their feet (or at least their cursors), getting information from apps, general and specialised search engines, social networks, and a multitude of websites. That free flow of information means that millions of websites (including ours) now compete directly for business, bringing you more information, lower prices, and more choice. We very much appreciate the Commission’s professionalism and integrity throughout this process, and look forward to reaching a sensible solution.”

    And we’re still waiting to see just what that solution may be, not to mention just how sensible it is.

    Thomas Vinje, spokesman for FairSearch Europe, the European branch of the coalition of companies (including Microsoft, Oracle, Expedia and others) that makes up Google’s most vocal opponent on antitrust matters, said in a statement, “Google’s proposed commitments intended to resolve the search bias concerns are ineffective by design, and we have asked the Commission to reject them in their entirety. Google’s proposed commitments across the board retard rather than promote competition. As we’ve said often, they are worse than nothing. Similarly, Google failed to propose effective remedies for scraping content from competing sites, locking advertisers into exclusivity arrangements and limiting the portability of ad campaigns.”

    FairSearch shares results from a survey it commissioned, finding that Google’s proposals “attract the vast majority of searchers to the company’s own products, and discourage them from visiting rivals.”

    It claims that one in five surfers clicked on Google’s commercial web services, such as Google Shopping, but only 200 clicked on those of its rivals, and that over half of those surveyed didn’t realize Google Shopping links were paid for.

    The study was conducted by University of Illinois professor David Hyman and University of San Francisco professor David Franklyn.

    “The Hyman / Franklyn study provides the hard, unbiased evidence for what seemed obvious: if Google gives itself prime placement and rich graphics on the search landing page — while relegating rivals to small links — then Google’s own products will prevail,” said Vinje. “We also learned that if Google is required to compete fairly against its rivals, as European law requires, then the winner will be based on the merits.”

    So yeah, it’s pretty much the argument that never ends, and now the ball appears to be in Google’s court. It will be interesting to see just how far Google will go to try and reach a settlement.

    Almunia is expected to address the the press again next month.

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