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Friday, June 08, 2012
Europe: Google Should Respond To Antitrust Concerns By July

The head of EU competition Joaquin Almunia on Friday confirmed that Google has until early July to put in place changes to its business practices to avoid formal sanctions resulting from an anti-trust investigation into the company.

Commissioner Almunia said he wanted to give the search-engine the "opportunity to offer remedy proposals that would avoid lengthy proceedings," in a speech at the International Competition Law Forum in Switzerland. "By early July, I expect to receive from Google concrete signs of their willingness to explore this route," he added.

If Google ignores the deadline, Almunia warned that "formal proceedings will continue through the adoption of a Statement of Objections."

Almunia also revealed that he had sent a letter to Google on 21 May stating that the Commission's 18 month investigation indicated that Google had unfairly favoured its own search services and products against other rivals.

Google disagrees with the Commission assessment.

The EC's concerns are related to the fact that Google displays links to its own vertical search services in its general search results on the web. Vertical search services are specialised search engines which focus on specific topics, such as for example restaurants, news or products. EC says that Google displays links to its own vertical search services differently than it does for links to competitors and this may result in preferential treatment compared to those of competing services, which may be hurt as a consequence.

EC also says that Google copies content from competing vertical search services and uses it in its own offerings, potentiall reducing competitors' incentives to invest in the creation of original content for the benefit of internet users.

EC's third concern relates to agreements between Google and partners on the websites of which Google delivers search advertisements. 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.

EC is also concerned about the restrictions that Google puts to the portability of online search advertising campaigns from its platform AdWords to the platforms of competitors. AdWords is Google's auction-based advertising platform on which advertisers can bid for the placement of search ads on search result pages provided by Google. EC says 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.

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