Report: Google’s Rivals Won’t Like EU Settlement

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Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) is reportedly getting closer to reading a deal with the European Union’s antitrust watchdog over the anti-competitive aspects of its search engine business. According to the Wall Street Journal, Google and the European Commission’s head Joaquin Almunia are close to announcing a deal despite the fact that Google’s competitors still believe Google needs to make more antitrust concessions.

Last week, sources who spoke to Reuters said that Google had submitted its latest set of concessions to the Commission and that those proposals were being reviewed without the input of Google’s competitors, who have previously had a say in the antitrust investigation. In September, Google submitted a new set of concessions that Almunia said he believed were an improvement, but when the groups representing Google’s European competitors vetoed them on the grounds that they did not go far enough, Google was told to go back to the drawing board.

Reuters’ sources said that Google submitted the updated antitrust concessions to the European Commission in mid-January after Almunia told reporters that Google had just “weeks” to resolve the antitrust investigation or face a fine of up to $5 billion. The sources said these concessions are “much better” than those previously offered by the company and that the two parties will announce they’ve reached an agreement as soon as in the next few days and no later than a couple weeks.

Now, Google’s rivals are complaining even before the settlement is announced. They know that Google and the Commission are both eager to settle the case, which has been ongoing since 2010. They also know that Almunia publicly approved of the concessions submitted back in the fall and only changed his mind when the competitors said the moves weren’t enough to stimulate a healthier amount of competition in the search engine landscape.

One of the groups representing Google’s rivals, IComp, has already written to Almunia to say the group was worried that Google would “again seek to obfuscate, confuse and confound with proposals the impacts of which are difficult even for experts to discern,” according to a letter seen by the Wall Street Journal. Google has been accused of favoring its own links over the links of rivals in its search results, copying content from other sites without permission, and using its dominance in the market to squash its competitors.

The Journal noted that according to Commission rules, the antitrust watchdog only has to re-consult the broader market if the new set of concessions is markedly different from the previous submission. The fact that the Commission is choosing not to consult Google’s competitors is a sign that the proposal the Commission is moving closer to accepting doesn’t differ much from the concessions submitted in September.

Those concessions included making it easier to differentiate between Google’s products and those of its rivals on mobile as well as PCs and giving companies the option to opt out of appearing in Google search results. Those concessions were in addition to the ones offered in April, which included doing more to distinguish between Google’s own products and the products of rivals in search results, as well as including links to at least three of its competitors with each search query.

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