The European Commission has agreed to new commitments from Google to ensure its online search advertising is not anti-competitive.
Joaquín Almunia, vice president of the European Commission (EC) responsible for competition policy, confirmed that Google had finally met the requirements of the EC after more than three years of back and forth between the organisations.
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The investigation into Google’s business practices began in November 2010, but it took until March 2013 for the EC to formally tell the US company about its concerns over anti-trust rules.
The EC took issue with four of the company's practices: favourable treatment of Google services over its competitors when using its search engine; the use of original content from third parties in its own services; conditions on publishers stopping them advertising Google competitors; and contract stipulations stopping publishers using the same format for their Google advertising on competing search sites.
As a result, the Commission insisted Google address these factors and come up with legally binding rules to make search advertising fairer to competitors.
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These commitments were initially sought in April 2013, but Google failed to meet the standards both of the EC and of the wider industry. In July, Almunia asked the search firm to improve its proposals significantly and by October the matter was thought to be concluded after the internet giant made even more concessions.
However, in today’s statement, Almunia revealed complainants and other relevant market participants were still unhappy with the steps Google had taken and wanted additional commitments.
Google has conceded and has now guaranteed whenever it promotes its own search services, such as hotels or restaurants, the services of three rivals will also be displayed so users can compare. This principle will apply not only for existing specialised search services, but also to changes in the presentation of those services and any future additions.
“My mission is to protect competition to the benefit of consumers, not competitors,” said Almunia. “I believe that the new proposal obtained from Google after long and difficult talks can now address the Commission's concerns.
“Without preventing Google from improving its own services, it provides users with real choice between competing services presented in a comparable way; it is then up to them to choose the best alternative. This way, both Google and its rivals will be able and encouraged to innovate and improve their offerings.”
My mission is to protect competition to the benefit of consumers, not competitors
Joaquín Almunia, vice president of the European Commission responsible for competition policy
Even with the EC stamp of approval though, Google will have to wait for complainants’ feedback again before the rules becoming legally binding.
If agreed, the commitments would cover the European Economic Area for five years and be supervised by an independent monitoring trustee.
Kent Walker, senior vice president and general counsel at Google said, “We will be making significant changes to the way Google operates in Europe. We have been working with the European Commission to address issues they raised and look forward to resolving this matter.”