Google competition proposals not good enough, says EC

Competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia wants Google to readdress fears that it is abusing its market domination for its own gain

European competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia wants Google to rethink its proposals to address fears that it is abusing its dominant market position to promote its own services.

EC competition authorities began investigating Google's business practices in 2010 after complaints by Microsoft and smaller rivals in the UK, Germany, France, Spain, Italy and the US.

Early in January, Almunia said Google would face a tougher stance on its business practices in Europe than it did in the US.

EC data shows that Google has a search market share of greater than 90% in Europe, compared with about 65% in the US.

"The way the US looks at abuse of dominant position is different from Europe," Almunia said after the US Federal Trade Commission dismissed concerns about Google’s business practices.

In February, Google submitted last-minute proposals to address the European Commission’s (EC) concerns about anti-competitive practices.

In revised proposals submitted in April, Google agreed to display links to rivals close to where it displayed its own services on its results page and label results from YouTube, Google Maps and its other sites.

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  • Google revises proposals to EC competition authorities
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Now the competition commissioner says Google must present fresh proposals because its offer to change the way it displays some results does not go far enough.

"The proposals that Google sent to us months ago are not enough to overcome our concerns," said Almunia.

Rivals want Google to be forced to implement the same ranking policy to all websites. Google maintains it remains committed to settling the case, but in response to Almunia’s call for further proposals, spokesman Al Verney said Google’s latest offer "clearly addresses" the EC’s concerns.

Almunia told Google he is concerned about:

  • The manner in which Google displays its own vertical search services differently from other, competing products;
  • How Google copies content from other websites – such as restaurant reviews – to include in its own services;
  • The exclusivity Google has to sell advertising around search terms people use;
  • Restrictions surrounding portability of advertising content which prevents seamless transfer to other non-Google platforms.

Representatives of complainants in the case have conducted market testing, which they say proves that even under the new proposals, Google-owned services enjoyed better placement than competitors.

According to the Guardian, The EC's key remaining concern is over Google's promotion of its services in its search results.

Complainants have called for Google to make public the criteria that it uses for promoting some search results above others, so that there would be a "level playing field" for those competing to be at the top of the search rankings.

The EC has threatened to take legal action if Google fails to come up with satisfactory proposals, and if the dispute goes to court, Google could face fines of up to 10% of its $31bn annual turnover.

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