Google antitrust smack-down in Europe – have your say on proposals

Google
Google

Google
The European Commission wants feedback on major proposals to change how Google runs its search and advertising services in Europe.

The proposals – listed on the EC’s website and reported earlier this month – follows complaints by companies including Microsoft, TripAdvisor, Expedia, and a three-year antitrust investigation by the EC.

The charge: the world’s largest general search engine may be abusing its 90 per cent market dominance in Europe by boosting its other search and advertising services. Examples of those other services include “vertical” search engines that focus on specific products or topics such as Google Shopping, Google Places, Google News and Google Flights.

The EC says that Google may also be violating EU antitrust rules by using material from third-party websites in its specialised search engines without consent and making it difficult for publishers to avoid advertising with it or to switch to other providers.

In response, Google has suggested – for the next five years – that it will (paraphrased):

  • label promoted links to its own specialised search services as such
  • separate those links clearly from other web search results (maybe this could even be a bonus for Google, if it plays it right)
  • display links to three rival specialised search services next to its promoted links (we assume this means putting Expedia next to Google Flights, for example)

It’ll also:

  • make it easier for websites to opt-out of having their content used in Google’s “vertical” search services – and, if they do, ensure they won’t be penalised in general search rankings
  • make sure newspaper publishers can control on a webpage-by-webpage basis what appears in Google News
  • no longer require publishers to source online search advertisements exclusively from Google
  • no longer impose obligations that prevent advertisers from also using competing advertising platforms

There’s one month to submit feedback on the proposals. If they pass into law and Google fails to comply, it could be fined up to 10 per cent of its global annual turnover.

This is a pretty big deal for Google but perhaps not as much as EU regulators had hoped for. According to the Wall Street Journal,  the EU’s antitrust chief, Joaquín Almunia said previously that he was seeking a “global solution” – the proposals out for comment this week will only apply to Europe.

In the US, where Google holds about 67 per cent market share, similar antitrust concerns were settled this year without major changes to search engine listings.

Image credit: Google, by Robert Scoble via Flickr 

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