Google is willing to show competitors' logos alongside search results links to settle the EU's antitrust investigation into its search business.
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The European Union's antitrust investigation of Google's search business could conclude with a formal settlement in the spring of 2014 if the company's latest concessions satisfy regulators and prove to be technically effective.
In a speech to lawmakers in the European parliament on Tuesday, Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia expressed optimism about the state of negotiations with Google, noting that the company had responded to concerns expressed in July about the adequacy of proposed changes.
"Now, with the significant improvements on the table, I think we have the possibility to work again and seek to find an effective solution based on a decision under Article 9 of the Antitrust Regulation," Almunia said.
Almunia said that the Competition Commission will work with Google in the weeks ahead on the precise wording of the proposed commitment, but he outlined the nature of the concessions, which cover the four major points of contention: 1) unequal treatment of third-party vertical search links; 2) Google's use of content from vertical search engines; 3) search agreements that limit partners; and 4) AdWords API restrictions.
First, Google's proposal will cover search queries in both typed and spoken form, without regard to the originating device. This matters because mobile devices represent the future of search. A proposal that only covered search queries submitted by desktop computers would be almost immediately irrelevant.
In addition, Google will develop an auction mechanism (or perhaps modify the existing AdWords auction system) to provide competing search services with the option to bid on specific queries for placement in search results, as a way to give smaller vertical search businesses the opportunity to be displayed.
Third, Google has offered to provide third-party websites with more effective controls for keeping their content out of Google's index, if they so choose. This would come with a provision that ensures Google cannot retaliate against websites that choose to keep their content away from Google.
Fourth, Google says it is willing to drop its contractual requirement that prevented publishers from showing ads from other ad networks alongside ads from Google on their websites, at least for queries coming from European users.
Fifth, Google says it will stop imposing limitations on advertisers that prevent them from moving their ad campaign data from Google to competing ad networks.
In response to Almunia's remarks, Thomas Vinje, legal counsel for FairSearch Europe, a group representing Google's rivals, declined comment on Google's proposal until the details are made public but insisted that the remedies require Google to apply the same rules to its services as it does to third-parties when returning search results.
Even if Google's proposal is ultimately deemed satisfactory and is accepted as an alternative to litigation, Google faces the possibility of additional antitrust battles in Europe: Almunia said the Competition Commission is also investigating whether Google's Motorola unit has been using standard patents in an anticompetitive manner and whether Google's decision to offer Android for free represents predatory pricing.
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