Google 'agrees EU antitrust settlement' over market dominance
GOOGLE and the European Commission have agreed the outlines of a settlement to end the two-year investigation into the internet giant's dominance of the search market.
The details of the deal have not been finalised but among the proposals are thought to be significant changes to the way Google ranks search results, sources suggest.
If the deal is agreed it would mean that Google would escape formal antitrust charges and possible regulatory intervention over claims that it manipulates search results to benefit its own websites.
Antoine Colombani, a spokesman for the European Commission, told Bloomberg that the EU had “reached a good degree of understanding on possible solutions” and that the two sides would continue discussions.
The Commission has been investigating Google since 2010, when several British and French companies complained that their sites were being pushed down search results to favour Google's own, competing websites.
Microsoft later joined the complaints against Google, which has a 90pc share of the European search market.
Earlier this month, Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman, proposed several measures in response to areas of concern identified by the European Commission. Though Google did not say what the proposals were, a spokesman said they addressed four areas of concern.
In addition to claims that Google unfairly favoured its own services in search results, it is thought that the Commission was concerned that the search giant was anti-competitive in its advertising agreements with other websites, attempted to prevent advertisers from moving their campaigns to rival search engines and took content from rival sites without permission.
Joaquin Almunia, the EU's competition commissioner, asked Google to clarify its proposals. He is said to have been particularly concerned that Google's proposals did not cover mobile platforms. According to the Financial Times, Google has agreed in principle to extend its proposed remedies to cover mobile.
A Google spokesman said: "We continue to work cooperatively with the Commission."
Mr Almunia has previously said that without a settlement European antitrust authorities would issue a "statement of objections", the first step towards fines of up to 10pc of Google's global revenues, which were $37.9bn in 2011. If the settlement is agreed without charges being brought, however, then Google will not face a fine and is not likely to have to admit any wrongdoing.
If this case is settled, Google is still likely to face investigation over the dominance that its Android mobile operating system enjoys in the smartphone and tablet market.
In addition, Google's activities are currently facing scrutiny from regulators in the US, South Korea and Argentina.