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Thursday, April 25, 2013
EU Antitrust Regulators Seeks Feedback on Google's Commitments To Address Competition Concerns

The European Commission invites Google's rivals to examine the concessions proposed by the Internet search engine to end an antitrust investigation, EU regulators said on Thursday.

Google has offered commitments in relation to online search and search advertising. The Commission has concerns that Google may be abusing its dominant position in the markets for web search, online search advertising and online search advertising intermediation in the European Economic Area (EEA). Google has made proposals to try to address the Commission's four competition concerns. Interested parties can now submit their comments within one month. The Commission will take them into account in its analysis of Google's commitment proposals. If the Commission concludes that they address its four competition concerns, it may decide to make them legally binding on Google.

In March 2013, the Commission formally informed Google of its preliminary conclusion that the four types of business practices by Google may violate EU antitrust rules:

(i) The favourable treatment, within Google's web search results, of links to Google?s own specialised web search services as compared to links to competing specialised web search services (i.e. services allowing users to search for specific categories of information such as restaurants, hotels or products);

(ii) The use by Google without consent of original content from third party web sites in its own specialised web search services;

(iii) Agreements that oblige third party web sites (publishers) to obtain all or most of their online search advertisements from Google; and

(iv) Contractual restrictions on the transferability of online search advertising campaigns to rival search advertising platforms and the management of such campaigns across Google's Adwords and rival search advertising platforms.

The Commission considers at this stage that these practices could harm consumers by reducing choice and stifling innovation in the fields of specialised search services and online search advertising.

To address these concerns, Google offers for a period of 5 years to:

- label promoted links to its own specialised search services so that users can distinguish them from natural web search results,

- clearly separate these promoted links from other web search results by clear graphical features (such as a frame), and

- display links to three rival specialised search services close to its own services, in a place that is clearly visible to users,

- offer all websites the option to opt-out from the use of all their content in Google's specialised search services, while ensuring that any opt-out does not unduly affect the ranking of those web sites in Google's general web search results,

- offer all specialised search web sites that focus on product search or local search the option to mark certain categories of information in such a way that such information is not indexed or used by Google,

- provide newspaper publishers with a mechanism allowing them to control on a web page per web page basis the display of their content in Google News,

- no longer include in its agreements with publishers any written or unwritten obligations that would require them to source online search advertisements exclusively from Google, and

- no longer impose obligations that would prevent advertisers from managing search advertising campaigns across competing advertising platforms.

These commitments would cover the European Economic Area (EEA).

The proposals also foresee that an independent Monitoring Trustee will advise the Commission in overseeing the proper implementation of the commitments.

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