Google's Schmidt meets EU competition chief to discuss antitrust woes

It was the first time Google executives got the chance to discuss the case with the EU's new antitrust chief

Google chairman Eric Schmidt and other company officials have met with the EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager to discuss the ongoing antitrust investigation into Google's search practices.

The Monday meeting was the first time Google executives had the chance to talk to Vestager about the antitrust case since she took over from her predecessor, Joaquín Almunia, on Nov. 1 last year.

Vestager spokesman Ricardo Cardoso confirmed the meeting at the Commission's midday press briefing Tuesday. He declined to comment specifically on what was discussed since it relates to an ongoing competition investigation.

Vestager is not only talking with Google, but has also been discussing the case with complainants in the months since she took office. The commissioner has talked to the different parties because she "wants to ensure a fair balance of views amongst the stakeholders," Cardoso said, adding that she will "continue to ensure that she has all facts up to date before engaging in any further steps." Further talks with other parties could be scheduled in the future.

The end of the case, which has dragged on since the first complaints were filed with the European Commission in 2010, is not in sight. The complainants want the Commission to impose sanctions on Google for favoring its own services in search results while reducing the visibility of results from competing sites.

The complaints were filed by various companies including Microsoft but also by vertical search engines like Foundem and German mapping site Hot Maps as well as travel sites Expedia and Tripadvisor.

Almunia tried several times to settle the case before the end of his term, but failed. Google's competitors successfully argued that the scope of the settlement deals offered favored Google too much.

On her part, Vestager said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal last month that she was "very impressed" by the arguments made by some of the complainants.

The Commission has no deadline to reach a decision.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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