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Lawyers see wisdom in Google’s search peace offerings

25 Apr 2013
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Google’s numerous peace offerings to European Commission competition regulators over search and advertising platforms are a sensible strategy for appeasing the authorities, lawyers have claimed.

Earlier on Thursday the EC unveiled a number of voluntary concessions Google has agreed to make to its search and advertising services after accusations it is abusing its market power at the expense of rivals.

These commitments include 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 let firms choose which elements of their sites can and cannot be included in search results without affecting their rankings and remove obligations on advertisers to sign ad platform deals exclusively with the firm.

In response lawyers have said that Google’s decision is a smart one as it allows it to control the changes it has to make, rather than being dictated too, and represents a strategy of appeasement form the firm that’s filtering into all areas of its business.

“It’s a very sensible approach to take. Where you think the Commission has serious concerns you could try and fight it to prove there is no issue but you can be slapped with large fines if this happens,” said  Paul Stone, competition and regulatory partner at Charles Russell, speaking to V3.

“Offering commitments is a practical way to bring the investigation to an end and it means of the EC agrees to the commitments you aren’t technically found to have infringed the rules.”

Adam Mitton, partner at law firm Harbottle & Lewis, agreed with this assetments, saying it was a "no-brainer" for Google to offer concessions to the authorities.

"The EU’s preliminary view was that Google’s had a dominant position in the search market and that it had abused that position. Faced with that preliminary view it’s really a no brainer for Google to try to avoid potentially multi-billion dollar fines by reaching a consensual settlement," he told V3.

"There is now an opportunity for Google’s competitors to give feedback on Google’s proposals and the real question is whether Google has gone, or could ever really go, far enough to appease its competitors and survive the 'market test' period."

Although the concessions are now up for a ‘market test’ for one month during which time competitors can respond to the proposals, Stone from Charles Russell said it was unlikely much would change.

“There may be a bit of to-and-froing between the EC and Google and the likes of Microsoft may pile in with some comments claiming certain elements don’t go far enough but it’s rare that it leads to any radically different outcomes,” he added.

However, not everyone has been left impressed. The chief executive of search site Foundem, Shivaun Raff, branded the proposals “half-hearted”, and no doubt is readying a reply to the EC.

“Without robust guidelines that guarantee the placement, depth, prominence, and relevance of these links, and guarantee that the selection of competitors will be free from anti-competitive penalties and discrimination, neither measure will make a dent in Google’s ability to hijack the traffic and revenues of its rivals,” he said in a statement online.

“As the gateway to the Internet, Google plays a decisive role in determining what the vast majority of us discover, read, use, and purchase online.

"The importance of ending Google’s ability to manipulate this unprecedented power to its own anti-competitive ends cannot be overstated. It is no stretch to say that the hopes of a digital-led economic recovery may depend on the outcome of this case."

V3 also contacted Microsoft for comment on the concessions offered but had received no reply at the time of publication.

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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

View Dan's Google+ profile

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