EU Gives Google A Last Chance To Avoid Antitrust Charges

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In late 2010, the European Commission launched an investigation into allegations that Google was abusing its dominant position in the search engine market. Today, Joaquín Almunia, the vice president of the European Commission responsible for competition policy, sent a letter to Google chairman Eric Schmidt with an update about its finding. The Commission, writes Almunia, identified four specific concerns that Google needs to address quickly to avoid formal antitrust charges. In the letter to Schmidt, Almunia offers “Google the possibility to come up in a matter of weeks with first proposals of remedies to address each of these points.”

Specifically, the European Commission is concerned about Google linking “differently” to its own vertical services, “which focus on specific topics, such as for example restaurants, news or products.” Google is, says the EU, giving preferential treatment to its own services compared to those of its competitors.

The Commission also “worries” about how Google “copies content from competing vertical search services and uses it in its own offerings.” This, Almunia says, could stifle innovation in the long run, as it could reduce competitors’ incentives to create their own original content.

As for Google’s advertising business, the Commission worries that Google is “shutting out competing providers of search advertising intermediation services” and is making it too hard for advertisers to port their campaigns to other services. The Commission seems to be especially concerned about Google shutting out intermediate service providers that could offer services around Google’s AdWords platform.

Almunia told Google that it has a few weeks to come up with proposals for remedies that will address these concerns. This way, Google could avoid a full-blown Microsoft-like antitrust case.

Google says that it disagrees with the EU’s findings, but that it is “happy to discuss any concerns they might have.”