The European Commission has signaled a peace deal after a three-year dispute with Google, accepting a third offer from the search company that would give rivals and advertisers greater screen prominence for their products and services.
European Commissioner for Competition Joaquin Almunia said the latest offer from Google was acceptable, though the final decision to ditch legal action against the firm would take months more. The agreement will cover both desktop and mobile use, and last for five years.
However, rivals and complainants in the case, launched in November 2010, strongly criticized the proposed settlement, arguing the EU regulator had been outwitted by the Internet search company.
“The new proposal from Google after long and difficult talks can now address the commission’s concerns,” Almunia said. “It provides users with real choice between competing services.”
He said he expected objections from the complainants, but did not expect to change his mind.
Google search results will continue to show other Google services and products such as its paid-for shopping links prominently, but alternative suppliers will also be highlighted prominently on screen.
Almunia said he was so satisfied with the Google offer that there was no need for the outcome to be market-tested by rivals and complainants for its effects on users, as previously happened.
The latest decision drew protests from rivals. Google’s first two sets of proposals were subjected to market-testing and found wanting.
“We need time and opportunity to ensure full technical assessment of how effective the proposed remedies would be,” said David Wood, legal counsel for Icomp, a lobby supported by Microsoft.
“Without a third-party review, Almunia risks having the wool pulled over his eyes by Google ... we do not believe Google has any intention of holding itself to account on these proposals,” Wood said.
Almunia dismissed demands that service and product suppliers should not have to pay to be carried by Google, and described the latter’s proposals — which now need to be placed under independent monitoring — as “far-reaching with the clear potential to re-establish a level playing field.”
“We believe Google’s final offer can address the competition issues,” he said.
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