Anti-trust: Commissioner Almunia leaves the initiative to Google

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The European Commission will investigate a new solution presented by Google in a row over Google promoting its own services to the disadvantage of other online search engines. The initial anti-trust investigation started in November 2010. Google owns 90% of the European market for search engines.

The European Commission had concerns over a set of four issues. Firstly, Google provided favourable treatment to its own specialised web search services in some areas, such as restaurants and travels. Secondly, Google used content from third-party websites, such as user reviews, without consent of the initial owners. The third worry of the Commission was that Google issued exclusivity agreements on its partners, stating they could not display advertisements of Google’s rivals. The final issue were concerns over the portability of the advertising platform for Google adWords. From July 2012, the investigations expanded also to smartphone and tablet applications.

Google initially came with a solution: a visual indicator that would show what search results concern partners of Google and to be more transparent on preferential treatment. The complainants and other partners deemed the measures insufficient and branded them even worse than doing nothing. They want to see more.

Joaquin Almunia, the European Commissioner for Competition, stressed that he preferred an amicable solution instead of time consuming legal procedures, he told the European Parliament. If the solutions provided by Google are not satisfactory, the fines could go up as high as 10% of Google’s annual turnover. Almunia will decide on this in spring 2014, just before the end of the Commission’s mandate.

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