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Saturday, February 2, 2013 - Page updated at 11:00 a.m.
Google submits settlement offer, EU antitrust chief says
By Jim Brunsden Aoife White
BRUSSELS — Google has submitted an offer to European Union regulators in a bid to settle a probe into whether the world’s largest search-engine operator discriminates against rivals, the EU’s antitrust chief said Friday.
“It has arrived,” EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia told reporters in Brussels. He said his officials would now study the proposal.
Almunia had asked Google to submit concessions by the end of January to address allegations that the company promotes its own specialist search-services, copies rivals’ travel and restaurant reviews, and has agreements with websites and software developers that stifle competition in the advertising industry. He first told Google in May that he wanted to settle the case.
Google sent a “detailed proposal,” said Antoine Colombani, a spokesman for Almunia. He said he couldn’t anticipate if the offer was sufficient to allay antitrust concerns or whether it would be sent to rivals and customers for comments. If this market test is successful, the EU can make the commitments legally binding. Such a settlement would avoid possible fines against the Mountain View, Calif.-based company.
Google continues “to work cooperatively with the commission,” the company’s Brussels-based spokesman Al Verney said in an emailed statement.
The United States ended an investigation into Google’s search business last month, saying there was no evidence that the company’s actions harmed consumers. Google also agreed to lift U.S. court injunctions for patents it inherited from Motorola Mobility Holdings when it acquired the company last year to settle allegations that it violated agreements to license key technology to rivals.
An EU settlement avoids any decision on whether a company broke antitrust rules. Companies can be fined as much as 10 percent of their yearly revenue if they break the terms of a legally binding settlement.
“Any settlement must include explicit acceptance by Google of its dominance and that it has damaged European businesses through its anti-competitive practices,” David Wood, legal counsel at ICOMP, a Brussels-based industry coalition that includes Microsoft, owner of the Bing search engine, said in an emailed statement. Microsoft is one of the companies that complained to the EU about Google’s search practices.
The EU is continuing to investigate Google over Motorola Mobility’s use of injunctions, saying the situation in Europe “is not the same” as in the U.S.
Microsoft and Apple have complained to the EU about the company’s use of legal actions to seek sales bans of their products. Regulators are also probing Google’s Android operating system for mobile phones and tablets.
In 2010, the EU began investigating claims Google discriminated against other services in its search results and stopped some websites from accepting competitors’ ads. While Microsoft and partner Yahoo have about a quarter of the U.S. Web-search market, Google has almost 95 percent of the traffic in Europe, Microsoft said in a blog post in 2011, citing data from regulators.
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