Google settles major antitrust case in EU, agrees to concessions
By Jim Puzzanghera, Los Angeles Times/MCT
February 7, 2014, 12:01 am TWN
TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Google Inc. cleared out a key antitrust case, among other battles it faces, by agreeing to terms with European officials over allegations that the Internet giant abused its search-engine dominance to promote its own services over those of competitors.
Google will change the way that it displays some search results on computers and mobile devices in Europe for the next five years as part of a tentative settlement announced by regulators Wednesday in Brussels.
The deal would end a more than three-year investigation into allegations of anti-competitive behavior made by Microsoft Corp. and other rivals. It would allow Google to avoid a large fine and other penalties.
"The concessions we extracted from Google in this case are far-reaching and have the clear potential to restore a level playing field in the important markets of online search and advertising," said Joaquin Almunia, the European Commission's vice president in charge of competition policy.
"No antitrust authority in the world has obtained such concessions," he said.
Ending that inquiry was important for Google because it faces another review there over alleged anti-competitive behavior involving the dominance of its Android operating system on smartphones.
European regulators also are investigating patent licensing practices by Google's Motorola Mobility unit, which now is being sold to China's Lenovo Group.
Given those pending cases, Google heeded a warning last month by Almunia that it should settle the online search case or face a formal complaint process.
Under the settlement, which still must be approved by the full European Commission, Google promised that whenever it promotes its own specialized services in search results, it also will promote the services of three competitors. Those services will be displayed prominently next to those of Google's own services with similar features, such as photos or videos.
The settlement applies only to Google's European websites. A similar inquiry by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission ended in January 2013 with no major sanctions against Google.
The FTC found in its 19-month review that Google sometimes favored its own products and services in search results, but the agency found no proof that the Mountain View, Calif., company violated antitrust laws or harmed consumers.
Microsoft and other rivals had complained to U.S. and European regulators that Google was treating competing services differently in search results. They argued that Google touted its own services at the top of results when people searched for products, restaurants, hotels, airline tickets and other items.
"We will be making significant changes to the way Google operates in Europe," said Kent Walker, Google's senior vice president and general counsel. "We have been working with the European Commission to address issues they raised, and look forward to resolving this matter."
Google's rivals said two previous settlement proposals by the company did not adequately address their concerns. European regulators rejected those offers.