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Google caves on Europe's specialised search concerns

25 Apr 2013
Google logo (Robert Scoble Flickr)

Google has outlined a number of changes it is prepared to make to its search and advertising services to fend off competition issues from the European Commission (EC), but rivals such as Microsoft, Nokia and Oracle have been asked to give their seal of approval to the proposals.

In a lengthy document the EC has outlined several issues with Google’s market dominance and the issues it has with the firm's power in the market.

“Google has been holding market shares in web search well above 90 percent in most European countries for several years now, a level which is higher than in many other parts of the world. There are also significant barriers to entry and network effects in both markets," it said.

It also confirmed that part of this investigation would include issues around the way Google uses its Android platform to promote its own services, such as YouTube, over rivals, an issue raised by a consortium of companies earlier this month.

"The EC is thoroughly examining all other allegations brought to its attention by different market players with a view to deciding whether or not a further investigation of those issues is warranted. Google's Android related business practices are part of those issues," it said.

In particular, the EC said it was concerned with four main issues over Google's dominance.

These were "specialised search", with regards the way Google displays results for its own services such as Google Shopping, over rivals, and "content usage" where Google displays information from rival sites within its own returned results, even if a website asks to stop this happening.

It also cited issues with its “exclusivity agreements with publishers" that effectively stops companies from taking advert slots from rivals and, lastly, issues with “restrictions on the portability of online search advertising campaigns" by making it hard to move ad campaigns to other platforms.

To appease the authorities Google has offered to meet a number of commitments over the next five years. These include clearly labelling results returned from its own services as its own by placing them in boxes and ensuring at least three other rival links are placed nearby.

It will also offer an option to let firms choose which elements of their sites can and cannot be included in search results without affecting their overall rankings and remove obligations on advertisers to sign ad platform deals exclusively with the firm.

Google and the EC are currently working through the possibility of reaching a settlement on these issues and the commitments are now subject to a market test of one month.

This gives rivals such as Microsoft, Nokia and other members of the Fairtrust consortium the chance to raise any issues they have with the proposals put forward.

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Dan Worth

Dan Worth is the news editor for V3 having first joined the site as a reporter in November 2009. He specialises in a raft of areas including fixed and mobile telecoms, data protection, social media and government IT. Before joining V3 Dan covered communications technology, data handling and resilience in the emergency services sector on the BAPCO Journal

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