Google has agreed to make “far-reaching” concessions on how it displays its competitors links in internet searches, in a deal with the European Union.
Ending a three-year antitrust probe, Google said on Wednesday it will significantly change the ways it displays some search results in Europe in favour of its competitors.
The EU, which has been investigating Google, said the company “has now accepted to guarantee” that when it displays its own specialised search services, it will also display those of three rivals in the same way to users.
It will also label more clearly search results stemming from its own services to allow users to distinguish between natural search results and those promoted by Google.
Reaching a settlement will spare the company a longer antitrust procedure that could have resulted in fines of up to 10 percent of the company’s annual revenue, or about $5bn.
EU Antitrust Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said he’s “strongly convinced” the US company’s proposals, its third attempt to address competition concerns are sufficient.
“This is an important step forward,” the AP news agency quoted him saying.
“The concessions are far-reaching and have the clear potential of restoring a level playing field with competitors, said Almunia. “No antitrust authority in the world has obtained such concessions.”
The EU Commission last year threw out two sets of proposed concessions by Google because they were deemed insufficient.
The US Federal Trade Commission investigated Google in a similar case last year and decided not to take action.
The company, based in Mountain View, California, has a market share of about 90 percent of internet searches in Europe, compared with around 70 percent in the US.
Negative competitor reaction
Google’s competitors, however, were not impressed with the deal with the EU. Internet commerce lobby group Icomp said the Commission should have given Google’s competitors more time to examine and test the concessions.
“Without a third party review, Almunia risks having the wool pulled over his eyes by Google,” the group said.
FairSearch, a Microsoft-led group of Google’s tech competitors that includes firms like Oracle, Expedia and Tripadvisor, condemned the Commission’s move as being “worse than doing nothing”.
Its lawyer Thomas Vinje said the proposed commitments will “lock in discrimination and raise rivals’ costs instead of solving the problem of Google’s anti-competitive practices”.
A separate antitrust investigation on Google’s Android operating system is still ongoing, Almunia said.