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EU, Google to seek anti-trust accord

Dec 19 2012 08:01

Brussels - The European Union will seek an accord with US internet search giant Google as progress has been made in resolving EU anti-trust concerns, EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said on Tuesday.

Almunia said he made the decision after meeting Google head Eric Schmidt in Brussels as "we have substantially reduced our differences regarding possible ways to address" EU competition concerns since talks began in July.

"On the basis of the progress made, I now expect Google to come forward with a detailed commitment text in January 2013," he said in a statement.

This text will used as the basis to firm up the measures Google should take which will "then be market-tested, leading to a possible decision with binding commitments."

In a short statement, Google said it would "continue to work cooperatively with the European Commission."

The EU listed four areas of concern regarding Google, chief among them how it can highlight links with its own search services in specific areas such as travel or restaurants.

It also has concerns over how Google may use and display third party content on its search services; the possible use of exclusivity agreements by the company and restrictions on allowing advertisers who would want to move their advertising from the company's AdWords service.

The Commission launched an anti-trust investigation into allegations that Google had abused its dominant market position in November 2010 following a complaint by several websets, including Ciao, owned by US software giant Microsoft which added its own charge in early 2011.

If found at fault in an anti-trust case, a company can face a fine of up to 10% of its sales.

Tuesday's EU announcement came after reports that US regulators were also likely to conclude a lengthy anti-trust probe into Google's dominance of Internet searches with a voluntary settlement.

The Wall Street Journal said on Monday that Google was likely to agree to a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission that calls for unspecified changes in how it handles search queries but would stop short of signing a consent decree that could be enforced by a court.

The Washington Post also reported that a settlement was likely this week, saying it would fall well short of what Google's rivals had sought.

The online news site Politico reported that the FTC did not have the votes to bring an enforcement action against Google but that the settlement would include new practices on the use of "snippets" of user reviews from companies such as Yelp and TripAdvisor, companies which have said Google uses such content without permission.

Politico said Google will also pledge to make it easier for advertisers to buy ad space on its search engine and to move their ad campaigns to competing sites.

Critics say Google controls some 70% of the internet search market - and the advertising that goes along with it - and may exert even more power in the mobile sector by controlling the Android operating system used on two-thirds of smartphones.

Google has been accused of "scraping" content from other services like travel and restaurant reviews while keeping consumers on its own sites.

It is also under fire for allegedly promoting its own services - including travel, restaurant reviews and YouTube videos - in its search results.

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