Google Inc. (GOOG:US) published details of the concessions it’s making to European Union regulators to settle a three-year antitrust probe.
Google will dodge EU fines and any finding that it discriminated against competing sites after the European Commission said last week that it accepted the company’s offer to show rival links next to its own specialized searches, such as Google Shopping. Competitors will pay at least 3 euro cents (4 U.S. cents) to bid for a spot in a shaded box on some of Google’s search pages.
The owner of the world’s largest search engine published its commitments “to ensure that everyone understands the wide-ranging nature of this settlement,” Google’s general counsel, Kent Walker, said in a blog posting today. The changes will give rival services “significant prominence and valuable screen space on our search results pages.”
Google and the EU have been criticized for agreeing to settle the case without consulting rivals and customers. Joaquin Almunia, the EU’s antitrust chief, was rebuked by at least three other EU commissioners at a regular meeting this week. ICOMP, which represents Microsoft Corp. (MSFT:US) and other companies that oppose the pact, said the EU should take into account their comments and analysis.
Almunia said he won’t test Google’s offer with other companies after seeking comments on two previous proposals. Officials will write to 18 complainants to explain why they think the new offer answers antitrust issues before rejecting the complaints and making Google’s commitments legally binding for five years.
Triggered by complaints from other Internet businesses, the EU’s probe examined allegations that Google promotes its specialist search services, such as Google News and Google Finance, copies competitors’ travel and restaurant reviews, and has agreements with websites and software developers that thwart competition in the advertising industry.
The deal will close one of the EU’s most high-profile antitrust cases as Almunia seeks similar settlements with OAO Gazprom (OGZD), Samsung Electronics (005930) Co. and Visa Europe Ltd. before he leaves office at the end of October. Breaking the terms of such a pact carries a penalty of as much as 10 percent of global revenue.
By settling, Google avoids the heavy fines meted out to other U.S. technology companies. Microsoft Corp., the world’s biggest software maker, has paid more than 2 billion euros in fines to the EU, while Intel Corp. (INTC:US), the largest chipmaker, got the EU’s highest-ever penalty of 1.06 billion euros in 2009.
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