With the outcome of a two-year long European Commission investigation into its search practices looming, Google is likely to have to change how it presents search results in Europe to improve the visibility of rival specialised search engines, according to the FT.
The newspaper says the visibility of “vertical search” results in areas such as mapping, weather and finance is one of the key concerns of EC investigators — which it takes to mean that Google is likely to be leaned on to improve the prominence of rival specialist search services so that consumers are presented with clearer alternatives. This is in addition to the “widely expected concessions” that Google will have to label its own services more clearly when they are displayed within search results.
A simple search for the word “weather” using Google currently results in the following configuration of results, with Google’s weather widget taking pride of place at the top, ahead of other third party weather services:
The Commission has been investigating whether Google has been linking differently to its own vertical services than to rivals — and therefore giving preferential treatment to its own services vs. competitors’ services. It is also worried about Google copying content, such as reviews, from competing vertical search services and incorporating that content into its own offerings. On the advertising side, the EC is also probing whether Google is “shutting out competing providers of search advertising intermediation services” and making it too hard for advertisers to port their campaigns to other services.
Mountain View submitted proposals to the EC back in February aimed at allaying concerns of search bias. The detail of its proposals has not been disclosed.
According to the FT, Google will submit its “final offer of concessions” to the Commission this week, with the aim of heading off formal antitrust charges and a substantial fine. EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia has previously suggested the EC probe into Google’s search practices could be resolved after this summer.
Earlier this week Almunia told the New York Times that negotiations are ongoing with Google, telling the paper: “I have an open phone line, or e-mail line, or SMS line at any moment.”