Google given more time to prove to Brussels it's NOT 'abusive' in search

Almunia sets deadline (of sorts) for second half of 2013


The two-year long competition probe of Google's search business in Europe is poised to continue at least into the second half of this year, commissioner Joaquin Almunia has confirmed.

"We can reach an agreement after the summer break. We can envisage this as a possible deadline," he said on Friday, according to Reuters.

The Register asked the commissioner's office what this meant in practice. A spokeswoman told us:

Vice President Almunia only gave an indication of what the possible timing could be if the proposals by Google address our concerns. We are still analysing these proposals, as the VP said.

Google submitted its latest round of proposals to Brussels' officials late last month - but details of the supposed concessions put forward by the ad giant were kept secret.

It's understood that Google has put forward an informal Article 9 offer to Almunia's office, which - if considered agreeable to the commission - would mean the company would not have to explicitly admit to dominance in the search market, nor would it have to cough to supposed abusive actions taking place.

But Almunia has repeatedly listed four areas of concern about how Google conducts itself in the search business in Europe - where the company commands more than 90 per cent of the market.

The commissioner has spoken of "abuse of dominance", which has led to Google chairman Eric Schmidt regularly lobbying Almunia in an effort to get them to drop the allegations that the firm favours its own search services over those of its rivals.

This has led to Google attempting several times to placate the EC, only to be told that previous proposals failed to address the concerns laid out by Almunia in May last year.

While a separate probe of the company's biz in the US was wrapped up in January when the Federal Trade Commission cleared Google of biasing its search results to nobble its competitors, the investigation in Europe has always been considered a much more prickly issue for Mountain View - both by its rivals and indeed by Google.

On the record, the multinational continues to say it works cooperatively with Almunia's office.

But the commissioner's comments today appeared to suggest that yet more wrangling is going on behind closed doors. It may possibly indicate that Google has been given more time to improve its proposals in order to take anti-competitive heat away from the company.

Almunia has always said that he wants to avoid imposing sanctions on Google, which could eventually lead to fines of up to 10 per cent of its revenue (about $4bn).

That might explain why the investigation looks set to rumble on into the second half of this year. The commissioner has also made it clear that he wants to "market test" any of Google's proposals with its rivals in order to put an end to "abuse of dominance" claims. ®

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