EUROPEAN OFFICIAL IS DISSATISFIED WITH GOOGLE PROPOSAL
c.2013 New York Times News Service
LONDON — Google’s latest proposal to settle an antitrust investigation in Europe does not go far enough, the European Union’s competition commissioner, Joaquín Almunia, said Friday.
Although his comments stopped short of a formal rejection, they are a blow to Google as it tries to settle the investigation into whether it abused its dominant position as the most widely used search engine in Europe. The EU had agreed to a tentative deal in October that would have required Google to provide rivals with greater visibility on Web search queries.
After allowing competitors to review the proposed deal, Almunia decided that the concessions were insufficient, meaning that any deal will most likely be pushed back until after the spring.
Speaking to Spanish radio, he said Google’s “latest proposals are not acceptable.” He added that time was running out for the company to offer further concessions that would allay the authorities’ concerns about potential anticompetitive practices. He did not say which of Google’s concessions had not gone far enough.
“The ball is still in Google’s court,” Almunia said. “Within a short time frame, the ball will be here, and then it will be the moment to make decisions.”
In response, Google said that its latest concessions, which are its second set after its original was rejected in May, already addressed the concerns of the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm.
“We’ve made significant changes to address the EC’s concerns, greatly increasing the visibility of rival services and addressing other specific issues,” Al Verney, a Google spokesman in Brussels, said in a statement.
European regulators began the case in November 2010. It centers on Google’s potentially favoring its own products and services over those of rivals. Google is used for roughly 90 percent of Internet searches in many large European markets; its U.S. market share is about 70 percent.
As part of the proposed deal announced in October, Google would have had to give greater prominence to rivals in searches about specific topics such as travel and online shopping.
Google’s competitors, including Microsoft, said Friday that Almunia’s latest comments should push the European Commission to enforce existing competition rules.
“Google was offered not one but two unique opportunities to reach an agreement with the commission, and yet their actions show a deep lack of willingness to change their harmful practices,” said David Wood, legal counsel for ICOMP, a trade body representing the Internet companies affected by Google’s practices.
Google has faced a series of European regulatory headaches in recent months.
Most recently, Spanish privacy regulators fined the company $1.2 million Thursday after the local authorities found the company guilty of three violations of data privacy rules. The cases involved the inappropriate collection of personal information from a number of Google services and products in Spain.
Google is facing similar complaints from other European privacy authorities, which claim that Google has collected individuals’ data without gaining their express consent.