EU Antitrust Officials Seek Remedies From Google

Google has weeks to respond to EU or face proceedings

The European Union Monday put more pressure on Google to come up with "remedies" to its concerns that Google may be abusing its market power. In a letter to Larry Schmidt, Google's CEO, the EU lays out the results of its antitrust investigation and gives the search giant mere weeks to address four problem areas or face formal proceedings that could lead to a fine of up to 10 percent of Google's annual revenue.

The EU has been investigating Google since November 2010. That investigation led the EU to identify four areas where Google's business practices may be considered "abuses of dominance."

Joaquín Almunia, the vp of the European Commission responsible for competition policy, urged Google to avoid "adversarial proceedings" by solving the EU's concerns.

"Restoring competition swiftly to the benefit of users at an early stage is always preferable to lengthy proceedings, although these sometimes become indispensable to competition enforcement," Almunia said in a press statement.

The EU itemized four areas for Google to address—first was that Google's general search results display links to its own vertical search services differently than its competitors.

"We are concerned that this may result in preferential treatment compared to those of competing services, which may be hurt as a consequence," said Almunia in a press statement.

The second concern is that Google is copying content from competing vertical search services and using it in its own offerings.

The third and fourth concerns dealt with Google's advertising practices, specifically that Google prevents ad partners from placing ads from Google's competitors on its sites and that contractual restrictions on software developers prevent them from transferring online search ad campaigns from Google AdWords to competing platforms.

A Google spokesperson said the company had just started looking through the commission's documents: "We disagree with their preliminary conclusions, but we're happy to discuss any concerns they might have. Competition on the Web has increased dramatically in the last two years since the commission started looking at this, and the competitive pressures Google faces are tremendous. Innovation online has never been greater."

Google's dominance has raised red flags with the Federal Trade Commission, which is investigating the search giant's business practices. In a sign that the FTC may be stepping up its scrutiny of the search firm, it recently hired Beth Wilkinson, a former Department of Justice prosecutor, as its lead investigator.