Google agrees to give equal prominence to rivals' services to settle EU antitrust case

05.02.2014, von Jennifer Baker

Google has agreed to give comparable display to specialized search services that rival its own, in order to settle a European Union antitrust case, the European Commission said Wednesday.Google has been under investigation by the European Commission since November 2010 after competitors accused directing users to its own services by reducing the visibility of competing websites and services in search results. "It is not our job to interfere with Google's algorithm," said Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia on Wednesday. "Our job is to allow competitors to compete fairly."Google's new commitment improves on the previous offer the company had made to the Commission, particularly in the area of vertical search, Almunia said.The main change is the visibility of rivals in search results. Images associated with rival links will be larger and more prominent. The option to 'hide' or switch off rival links has also been removed. However the structure of the proposals remains the same, he said.Google's General Counsel, Kent Walker, said in statement: "We will be making significant changes to the way Google operates in Europe. We have been working with the European Commission to address issues they raised and look forward to resolving this matter."Almunia will send the 18 complainants letters outlining how he plans to settle the case. "We will explain why some complaints were partially rejected," he said. The complainants will be given a chance to comment and their responses analyzed before the agreement is formally adopted by the Commission and becomes legally binding.Google was also accused of content-scraping and imposing contractual restrictions that prevent advertisers from moving their online campaigns to rival search engines. The company has already pledged to stop these practices.Rivals were quick to criticize the Commissioner's statement, saying that the proposals do nothing to tackle Google's dominant market position.

"The position of Google is dominant, yes," said Almunia. "But that was not what the investigation was about. It is dominant  because of its ability to innovate and provide services that users want. What we are dealing with here is abuse of this position," he said.

Following the announcement by Almunia, many critics including e-commerce company Allegro Group as well as lobby groups Fairsearch and ICOMP said they were very disappointed that there would be no market review as with the two previous sets of proposals.

"I don't see that I will change my mind on the proposals," said Almunia, despite promising to analyze rivals' responses.

David Wood, legal counsel for ICOMP, described the proposals as "a massive failure."