Summary:

The European Commission’s competition head has said Google’s latest proposals still don’t eliminate the Commission’s concerns — but the company still has a chance to tweak them.

Google (GOOG)
photo: Getty Images / Justin Sullivan

The European Commission has turned down Google’s latest antitrust settlement proposals yet gain, meaning the search giant will have to revise those proposals once more if it wants to avoid big fines or even worse sanctions.

EU competition chief Joaquin Almunia told a Spanish radio station on Friday that Google’s latest proposals “are not proposals that can eliminate our concerns regarding competition.” This is at least the second time the Commission has said no to Google’s evolving settlement offer.

A posse of companies, including Microsoft, has been on Google’s back in Europe for years, complaining that it treats vertical search rivals unfairly by downranking them in its own results and also scraping their content without permission. They also say Google unfairly locks publishers and advertisers into its services.

The European Commission has agreed there’s a major problem — which is fair, because Google utterly owns the European search market with a roughly 90 percent share. The last year has seen Google repeatedly try to offer concessions, in order to make the whole thing go away. So far, that hasn’t worked.

Even though Google is now proposing significant prominence for rivals’ services, the complainants recently said Google was still positioning those services in a way that draws users’ eyes to Google’s results instead — I reckon they’re getting into nitpicking territory here, but the Commission clearly sees something amiss too.

Google iPod heatmap

According to a transcript of Almunia’s interview, issued by the Commission on Friday:

“The latest offer as submmitted by Google in October, following the series of consultations that we have carried out with more than 100 interlocutors — those who submitted complaints against Google, the relevant participants in the sector and a lot of other people — the latest proposals are not acceptable in the sense that they are not proposals that can eliminate our concerns regarding competition and in particular regarding the way Google’s rivals in vertical search — search for products and price comparison, restaurants, etc. — are being treated.”

However, Almunia didn’t say the Commission would be moving to impose sanctions just yet, as Google can still tweak its proposals. “At this moment there is little time left, but the ball is still in Google’s court,” he said. “But within a short timeframe, the ball will then be here and then it will be the moment to take decisions.”

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