Google Submits Proposals To EU Antitrust Regulator To Allay Biased Search Concerns

Google is no longer under antitrust investigation by the FTC — having settled with the U.S. agency at the start of this month by making two voluntary product changes — but a European Union antitrust investigation into the search giant, launched in November 2010, is still ongoing. The EU has the power to levy a fine of up to 10 per cent of a company’s annual turnover if they are found to have breached its rules — meaning Google could face a fine that runs to billions of dollars.

According to a Reuters report, Google has now submitted detailed proposals to the EU’s competition commissioner, Joaquín Almunia. Almunia confirmed receipt of Google’s proposal when asked by the news agency and said the EU would be “analyzing it” — declining to give details of the specifics. Reuters notes that the commissioner told Google in December it had until the end of January to present a comprehensive offer to allay the EU’s regulatory concerns.

Commissioner Almunia has been talking tough against Google in recent weeks, telling the FT last month that his “conviction is [Google] are diverting traffic” and hurting competitors — and that the company may be abusing a “dominant position”.

Specifically, the Commission suspects Google has been linking differently to its own vertical services than to rivals — i.e. giving preferential treatment to its own services compared to those of its competitors. It is also worried about Google copying content, such as reviews, from “competing vertical search services” and using it in its own offerings. And, on the advertising side, it’s concerned 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.

According to the FT report, the EC could make biased search results the centerpiece of its antitrust charges against Google — unless Mountain View comes up with satisfactory proposals to amend how it operates. Almunia told the FT he would be “obliged” to charge Google if its proposal is “unsatisfactory”.

We’ve reached out to Google and the office of commissioner Almunia for comment and will update this story with any response. Update:  Antoine Colombani, spokesperson for the competition commissioner provided the following statement: “We have received proposals by Google which we are now analysing.” Asked for how long the analysis process might take, the spokesperson declined to comment further, saying only: “Discussions are on-going with Google.”

Reuters said Almunia is now expected to seek feedback from Google’s rivals and “other interested parties”, as it works towards resolving the two-year investigation.