Business Technology

Wednesday 21 March 2018

Europe reviews Google's latest effort to end competition row

European Competition Commissioner Almunia
European Competition Commissioner Almunia

Stephanie Bodoni and Flavia Rotondi in Cernobbio

Authorities in Brussels are considering proposals tabled by Google aimed at ending a three-year competition probe into the way it operates its internet search services.

A previous proposal from the company was rejected in July.

US-based Google employs more than 2,500 staff at its European headquarters in Dublin.

Authorities in Brussels are investigating whether Google promotes its own specialist search services, such as Google News and Google Finance, copies rivals' travel and restaurant reviews, and has agreements with websites and software developers that stifle competition in the advertising industry.

"We received new proposals from Google in the previous week," EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said in an interview with Bloomberg in Cernobbio, Italy, yesterday.

"If we are satisfied with the new proposals, we can advance toward an agreed solution in the coming months."

In July, regulators rejected an offer from Google to label its branded search services and also to show links to rival specialised search services.

Rivals including Microsoft have pushed Mr Almunia to seek tougher concessions from the company, which has come to dominate the online search market.

"Once we have completed our analysis, once we will check that these new proposals are able to eliminate our concerns, we will tell Google what to do," Mr Almunia said yesterday.

He also said the European Commission was reviewing proposals from Samsung Electronics Co to resolve another competition case.


"Our proposal to the European Commission addresses their four areas of concern," Al Verney, a Brussels-based spokesman for Google, said yesterday. "We continue to work with the commission to settle this case."

The commission will opt for a formal complaint, or statement of objections, against Google "if we consider that the new proposals are not able to limit our concerns", it said.

Still, that would take "too long", Mr Almunia said.

"It's a very difficult one, we are dealing with new factors, we are dealing with a sector of activity that is moving very, very fast," he said.

Ultimately, if it is not satisfied that a case has been resolved, the commission can impose fines or even order a company to change the way it operates.

Samsung is also in discussions with the EU to settle a separate probe over possible antitrust violations through its hold on essential tech patents to block Apple products.

Mr Almunia said South Korea-based Samsung "submitted proposals, we have discussed the proposals coming from Samsung, and we asked them to improve the proposals".

He said the discussions were "quite advanced" though they "are not yet there". A final agreement depends on "some elements that need to be improved from the Samsung side".

In December 2012, the commission told Samsung it may have violated competition rules by seeking injunctions against Apple products in various European countries based on essential technology patents it owns.

Mr Almunia has sent statements of objections laying out his concerns to Samsung and in a separate probe to Google's Motorola Mobility Holdings unit.

Mr Almunia has said he was targeting the "rules of the game" to prevent companies unfairly leveraging their inventions to thwart rivals. (Bloomberg)

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