EU Asks Google to Remedy Four Search-Related Antitrust Complaints

By Beecher Tuttle May 21, 2012

European Union regulators have given Google "a matter of weeks" to address antitrust complaints brought forth by a number of companies over the search engine giant's dominant market position.

EU antitrust chief Joaquin Almunia said Monday that Google can avoid adversarial proceedings by voluntarily offering remedies to four main areas of concern that may be considered "abuses of dominance." The report follows a near 18-month antitrust investigation into Google's business practices on behalf of Microsoft, Yelp and other Internet firms.

The main critique of Google concerns its propensity to give preferential treatment to its own vertical search services compared to links from competitors, an act that clearly inhibits competition.

Secondly, the EU charges Google with copying content from competing vertical search services and incorporating it into its own offerings. Almunia references examples of Google copying user reviews or information from travel sites and restaurant guides without permission, and then using that material on its own sites.

"In this way, they are appropriating the benefits of the investments of competitors," Almunia said. "We are worried that this could reduce competitors' incentives to invest in the creation of original content for the benefit of internet users."

The EU's third concern stems from the strict agreements that Google inks with Websites that incorporate Google search. Websites that add search functionality are often required to enable Google ads.

"The agreements result in de facto exclusivity requiring them to obtain all or most of their requirements of search advertisements from Google, thus shutting out competing providers of search advertising intermediation services," Almunia added.

The final point of contention relates to Google's common practice of closing competitors off from its auction-based advertising platform, AdWords.

"We are concerned that Google imposes contractual restrictions on software developers which prevent them from offering tools that allow the seamless transfer of search advertising campaigns across AdWords and other platforms for search advertising," Almunia said.

The EU Commission has given Google a short window to review the charges and present initial proposals to remedy each concern. If the proposals properly address the EU's complaints, Almunia will refrain from pursuing formal proceedings that could eventually result in hefty fines.

Edited by Braden Becker

TechZone360 Contributor

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