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4/15/2013
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EU Accepts Google Antitrust Proposal

Google escapes serious sanctions, but will change the way it displays some search results in Europe.

Google Chromebook Pixel: Visual Tour
Google Chromebook Pixel: Visual Tour
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The European Commission has reportedly agreed to a proposal Google has submitted to address the Commission's antitrust concerns.

Two people familiar with the agreement confirmed the acceptance of Google's proposed settlement to the New York Times. The changes described in the settlement offer are expected to be tested in the market for a month or so before they're finalized.

An EU spokesman said in an email, "In the end of January, Google submitted detailed proposals to try to address the Commission's concerns. In the last few weeks, the Commission completed its Preliminary Assessment formally setting out its concerns. On this basis, Google then made a formal submission of commitments to the Commission. We are now preparing the launch of a market test to seek feedback from market players, including complainants, on these commitment proposals."

Google in an emailed statement said only, "We continue to work cooperatively with the European Commission."

[ What's the point of having the Freedom Of Information Act if the government ignores our requests for information? Read The Freedom From Information Act. ]

Last summer, Google's initial proposed settlement was deemed inadequate by the Commission. The specifics of that proposal were not made public, but the Commission has cited four areas of concern: 1) unequal treatment of third-party vertical search links; 2) copying content from vertical search engines; 3) search agreements with partners; and 4) AdWords API restrictions.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the settlement does not conclude that Google abused monopoly power to the detriment of competitors. Last month, a group of 11 companies sent a letter to E.U. competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia urging him to punish Google with serious sanctions.

Nonetheless, it appears that Google will escape the kind of burdensome antitrust remedies imposed on Microsoft at the conclusion of its antitrust trial.

When the FTC said it had concluded its 19-month antitrust investigation into Google's business practices in January, FairSearch.org, a group representing Microsoft, Nokia, Oracle, and online travel and marketing companies, complained that the lack of serious remedies "will only embolden Google to act more aggressively to misuse its monopoly power to harm other innovators."

FairSearch.org last week expanded its effort to entangle Google in regulation by filing a complaint with the European Commission about Google's Android operating system. The group accused Google of predatory pricing for offering Android for free.

Google's proposal, according to The Wall Street Journal, will change how Google search results listings appear in Europe. Google reportedly plans to make at least some links to its own websites recognizable as promoted links, a change that will make its universal search less universal.

In addition, when Google promotes its own websites, the company plans to display at least three links to competing search services if those services also have relevant answers to the query. These changes would not apply to paid search services such as Google Shopping and Google Flight Search.

The proposed settlement is said to include some changes similar to those in Google's agreement with the FTC. However, the EU settlement reportedly includes changes to Google's AdSense contract that would allow AdSense publishers to include ads not served by Google.

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