After Google’s competitors loudly complained about the company’s antitrust settlement proposal, which displayed three “rival links” to alternative’ search results, European Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said it would take new “concessions” for Google to successfully settle its antitrust case with Europe.
Google has now reportedly made those concessions.
Almunia characterized Google’s updated settlement offer, submitted last month, as a “significant improvement.” According to a Reuters report, “Almunia told lawmakers in the European Parliament he believed the new offer made it easier to see Google’s rivals when making an internet search.” He also reiterated his preference for settling the case vs. pushing forward with an adversarial process and fines.
Potentially billions in fines are on the table if Google cannot settle with the EU.
The company has long taken the position that it wants to settle and repeatedly asserted that its original proposal addressed the European Competition Commission’s “four areas of concern.” The main dispute is over Google’s placement of it’s own “vertical” content in search results.
To address that concern Google originally agreed to:
- Clearly label its own properties in search results
- “Prominently show at least three links to rival, non-Google sites that have information relevant to a user’s query”
- Third party verification of compliance
Without saying more about these additional, new concessions Google General Counsel Kent Walker confirmed to Reuters that Google has “agree[d] to [Europe's] requirements”:
“While competition online is thriving, we’ve made the difficult decision to agree to their requirements in the interests of reaching a settlement,” Walker said.
The earlier “rival links” proposal was criticized by FairSearch.org and others as being little more than a symbolic gesture toward competition. It’s implied that Google has offered to make the “rival links” more prominent. However until these additional concessions are known we can’t determine the potential likelihood of settlement.
Unless the new settlement offer’s changes are truly significant it’s unlikely that Google’s competitors will accept them. Almunia apparently can accept the Google settlement proposal over the objections of third parties. He seems politically reluctant to do so however.
Almunia was instrumental in negotiating the initial settlement proposal with Google. Then he appeared to be somewhat surprised and taken aback by the degree of opposition from “the market.”
On the other side of the Atlantic, in yet another antitrust review, it now appears that the US Federal Trade Commission is unlikely to oppose Google’s billion dollar acquisition of social mapping provider Waze.
Postscript: The following is a statement from FairSearch.org, attributed to thomas Vinje, Legal Counsel and Spokesman for FairSearch Europe, in response to the report above:
“Until we have seen the details of Google’s proposed remedies, it would be irresponsible to comment on their content and potential for correcting the anti-competitive behaviour identified by the European Commission in May 2012.
“However, for FairSearch Europe it is essential that the remedies install the principle of non-discrimination so that Google applies the same rules to its own services as it does to others when it returns and displays search results.
“FairSearch Europe also looks forward to a deep and broad market test among complainants and key stakeholders as the only way to test the effectiveness of the proposed remedies to restore competition in the online search market.”
Postscript 2: The Guardian is claiming that one of the new concessions is that Google will introduce logos beside the links to alternative content sources.