Google offers concessions to EU antitrust regulators

Google makes proposals aimed at avoiding a massive fine

Google's Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt has written to Europe's top antitrust authorities with proposals aimed at avoiding a fine for anticompetitive behavior and abuse of its dominant market position.

The European Commission confirmed on Monday that a letter had been received from Schmidt, but declined to give details of the proposals.

Google is accused of using its search service to direct users to its own products and to reduce the visibility of competing websites and offerings. The complaints were first lodged by French search engine eJustice.fr and the U.K.-based Foundem in 2010. But 14 other companies followed their lead, including Microsoft-owned German price comparison site Ciao, Dutch football website Elfvoetbal, French companies Dealdujour.pro and Twenga, British online mapping company Streetmap and online travel sites Expedia and Tripadvisor.

The Commission extended the case into a full investigation in November last year to determine whether Google's algorithm unfairly penalizes rivals.

There are also allegations that Google may have copied travel and restaurant reviews from competing sites without their permission and that its contractual restrictions may prevent advertisers from moving their online campaigns to rival search engines.

Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said last month that Google would receive a formal antitrust complaint if the company's settlement proposals are unsatisfactory. A guilty finding would mean that the Commission could restrict Google's business activities in Europe and fine the company up to 10 percent of its annual global revenue, which was US$37.9 billion last year.

Google's spokesman in Brussels, Al Verney, said that the company was committed to working with the Commission to resolve the regulator's concerns and that the proposals address all four issues that the Commission has raised.

Both Google and the Commission will want to see the matter concluded quickly to avoid a situation like the Microsoft antitrust case, which dragged on for 10 years. Meanwhile, U.S. regulators will be watching closely, since the search giant is under a similar investigation there.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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