Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Just Under Deadline, Google Responds to European Antitrust Concerns

Google hit the European Commission’s deadline of January 31 to provide a substantive response to antitrust concerns — but just barely.

The company submitted a proposal regarding what it is willing to settle earlier today, said sources, after negotiations in Brussels went to the wire.

The big question is whether the EC extracts more concessions from Google than the U.S. According to a source familiar with this week’s active negotiations, the proposal is quite similar to what Google already agreed to in a parallel case with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, over scraping information to include in search results and sharing information through advertising APIs.

However, there are likely to be a few key differences. One source said that the European agreement won’t address patents, and it will likely include instructions to have better labeling in search — a topic that wasn’t touched by the FTC agreements.

Perhaps most significantly, as in the U.S., Google won’t have to admit wrongdoing.

Neither Google nor the EC are confirming that the submission happened. “We continue to work cooperatively with the European Commission,” said Google in a statement, while the press office of European competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia did not reply to a request for comment.

Almunia had announced in December that he expected Google to submit a “detailed commitment text” in January 2013, and had reiterated that deadline in recent comments.

The settlement agreement as Almunia has laid it out would be under Article 9 of the EU Antitrust regulation. That’s important, because it’s a different and newer law than what was applied in Europe to Intel and Microsoft. Most critically, it wouldn’t include the substantial fines associated with the traditional European antitrust enforcements.

Though both the timeline and the substance of the European negotiations have been made public many times, those involved seem to be trying especially hard to keep details of the submission under wraps. I was able to glean some information from a source familiar with the situation in Brussels, but wasn’t able to confirm it elsewhere as yet.

However, other outlets, including the subscription regulatory outlet MLex, are also reporting that Google finally made its submission.

So, what would this settlement mean? For Google to better label its own products in search results makes sense, but it’s not one of the stronger remedies preferred by the search giant’s competitors, who don’t like Google using its overall strength to help its own vertical search properties, and have hoped that regulators might put a stop to that.

Many people I’ve talked to who are familiar with discussions in the case cite an open letter written by Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land as a guideline to better disclose paid inclusion and content promotion.

The next step in the process, if Almunia’s office accepts Google’s submission, will be to test it in the market for effectiveness — another aspect that would be different from the U.S. agreements.

Update: In the wee hours of February 1 out here in San Francisco, we received a statement from Almunia’s spokesperson, Antoine Colombani: “We have received proposals by Google which we are now analysing.”

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