The European Commission formally announced the measures that Google has offered to take in order to settle a major antitrust investigation into its practices. It now wants “interested parties” to have their say on the proposals over the next month, after which it will decide whether to make them legally binding on Google.
The case followed complaints by Microsoft and others over Google’s treatment of rivals’ web services in its search results. These companies argue that Google favors its own services, which are not clearly marked as such, and also that it unfairly locks advertisers onto its platform and scrapes content from third-party search and comparison sites without consent.
A recent leak outlined the terms of the proposed settlement deal, but here’s the official version:
To address these concerns, Google offers for a period of 5 years to:
(i) – label promoted links to its own specialised search services so that users can distinguish them from natural web search results,
– clearly separate these promoted links from other web search results by clear graphical features (such as a frame), and
– display links to three rival specialised search services close to its own services, in a place that is clearly visible to users,
(ii) – offer all websites the option to opt-out from the use of all their content in Google’s specialised search services, while ensuring that any opt-out does not unduly affect the ranking of those web sites in Google’s general web search results,
– offer all specialised search web sites that focus on product search or local search the option to mark certain categories of information in such a way that such information is not indexed or used by Google,
– provide newspaper publishers with a mechanism allowing them to control on a web page per web page basis the display of their content in Google News,
(iii) no longer include in its agreements with publishers any written or unwritten obligations that would require them to source online search advertisements exclusively from Google, and
(iv) no longer impose obligations that would prevent advertisers from managing search advertising campaigns across competing advertising platforms.
Authorities in the U.S. more-or-less cleared Google over similar complaints, but it’s important to note that Google’s share of the search market there is around 67 percent, whereas in the E.U, it’s around 90 percent. This gives it stronger market power in Europe, and forces the regulators’ hand somewhat (as do local laws).
A Q&A document, which outlines the Commission’s concerns in detail, points out that “it does not seem likely that another web search service will replace [Google] as European users’ web search service of choice.”
“In this context, it is important for the Commission to intervene in order to ensure that Google’s prominent market position in web search does not affect the possibility for other competitors to innovate in neighbouring markets, including in the long-term,” the document states.