Google reaches antitrust deal with EU

Google has agreed to make a series of changes to its search and advertising operations to settle concerns that it might be violating European Union antitrust laws.

The agreement settles a three-year investigation into ways the company was promoting its own services above competitors and means Google will avoid a formal probe and potential fine from the European Commission.  

“The objective of the Commission is not to interfere in Google's search algorithm. It is to ensure that Google's rivals can compete fairly with Google's own services,” said Joaquín Almunia, the commission’s vice president in charge of competition policy, in a press conference in Brussels on Wednesday, according to prepared remarks.

“Google should not be prevented from trying to provide users with what they're looking for. What Google should do is also give rivals a prominent space on Google's search results, in a visual format which will attract users.”

In a statement sent to The Hill, Kent Walker, Google senior vice president and senior counsel, said the search giant will be making “significant changes” to the way it operates in Europe.

European regulators began their inquiry in 2010.

In March, the European Commission formally told the California-based company that four of its business practices might violate its antitrust rules. Regulators said that it was promoting its own search services on its site more prominently than competitors, using other people’s content without their consent and limiting other companies’ abilities to use other advertising.

“Our concern was that, given the favourable treatment of Google's own services on its page, competitors' results which are potentially as relevant to the user as Google's own services — or even more relevant — could be significantly less visible or not directly visible, leading to an undue diversion of internet traffic,” Almunia said.

Under the terms of the deal, Google will guarantee that whenever it promotes its own search tools for restaurants, shopping or other goods and services, it will also clearly display three rivals in a similar manner.

The company had already agreed to allow people to opt out of having their content included in its searches, remove exclusivity requirements with advertisement publishers and get rid of restrictions preventing ad campaigns from running on competing search engines, which the commission described as “significant concessions.”

Google will be monitored by an independent trustee to ensure it keeps its commitments.

Last year, the company won a major victory when the Federal Trade Commission backed off of antitrust charges of its own.