The European Union’s commissioner responsible for competition policy has given Google an ultimatum to provide a list of steps the company will take to address concerns – and complaints from rivals – that it has abused its dominant market position in Europe.
Vice President of the European Commission JoaquÃn Almunia said Monday that he is hopeful Google itself will offer a workable solution to the antitrust investigation, which has been ongoing since 2010, “for the benefit of competition and innovation in the sector.”
“I believe that these fast-moving markets would particularly benefit from a quick resolution of the competition issues identified,” he said. “In this case, Google Inc. has repeatedly expressed to me its willingness to discuss any concerns that the Commission might have without having to engage in adversarial proceedings. This is why I am today giving Google an opportunity to offer remedies to address the concerns we have already identified.”
The commission has identified four areas in which Google may be taking advantage of its dominance in the European search market.
There is concern that the way Google displays links to its vertical search services give it an unfair advantage, and that the company benefits from copying content from competing services without prior authorization – a central functionality of longstanding Google products like Google Maps, as well as new entrants like Knowledge Graph.
The commission is also worried about two of Google’s advertising policies: an exclusivity agreement for search advertisements, and contractual restrictions in AdWords that prevent developers from creating tools that transfer advertising campaigns across AdWords and competing advertising platforms.
“I have just sent a letter to Eric Schmidt setting out these four points,” Almunia said. “In this letter, I offer Google the possibility to come up in a matter of weeks with first proposals of remedies to address each of these points. If Google comes up with an outline of remedies which are capable of addressing our concerns, I will instruct my staff to initiate the discussions in order to finalise a remedies package.”
If Google offers a satisfactory course of action, Almunia said, the commission would be able to avoid the formal proceedings associated with European Union antitrust regulations.
Google said Monday that it believed the commission was in error, but that it would engage in further discussions.
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