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EU threatens Google with antitrust fines over search results

updated 02:57 pm EDT, Mon May 21, 2012

Search giant asked to address issues

European Union antitrust regulators have threatened Google with fines and a formal antitrust lawsuit if the search giant does not move to resolve lingering concerns. European Commission vice president JoaquAn Alumnia has found evidence of anticompetitive wrongdoing, however regulators are enabling the company to make a "commitment decision" as an alternative to litigation and a potential fine.

After more than 18 months of research, sparked by complaints from competitors, Aluminia has defined four different areas in which the search company may have "abused a dominant market position." One of the concerns involves vertical search services that organize results based on topics such as restaurants or products. The Commission has voiced "concern" of preferential treatment, as Google presents its own results differently than it does for competitors that offer similar services.

"Our second concern relates to the way Google copies content from competing vertical search services and uses it in its own offerings," Alumnia added. "Google may be copying original material from the websites of its competitors such as user reviews and using that material on its own sites without their prior authorisation."

Regulators have also taken interest in agreements that Google may have established with advertisers that run campaigns via AdWords. Alumnia suggests Google may be imposing "contractual restrictions" to effectively bar third-party intermediaries from participating in the program.

The last concern focuses on potential restrictions that prevent software developers from offering tools that enable "seamless transfer" of search advertising campaigns across AdWords and competing platforms.

"I offer Google the possibility to come up in a matter of weeks with first proposals of remedies to address each of these points," Alumnia said. "If Google comes up with an outline of remedies which are capable of addressing our concerns, I will instruct my staff to initiate the discussions in order to finalise a remedies package."

The Commission claims it will market-test any final proposals before it becomes legally binding, and cautions that the company will continue to face formal proceedings should the process "fail to deliver a satisfactory set of remedies."

Google has yet to respond to the statement, which was outlined in a letter to CEO Eric Schmidt.

by MacNN Staff



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