Google's European antitrust remedies don't cover google.com searches

Google has made new proposals to the Commission as it tries to avoid an antitrust fine

Google's proposal aimed at dodging a fine from the European Commission for allegedly breaking competition rules doesn't include any changes to how search results are presented on the Google.com domain.

European Commission sources confirmed on Monday that although the new remedies were substantially improved from the search giant's last offering, they still do not cover searches made through its .com domain. The Commission takes the view that less than 10 percent of search carried out in the European Union is via the google.com website. The remedies do cover search via in-browser search bars and voice queries.

Google's rivals have also been given another opportunity to review the search giant's latest proposed measures. Questionnaires will be sent to all those who responded to the first call for feedback in April this year. That feedback resulted in the Commission demanding more concessions from Google.

The three-year investigation has four main areas of concern: Google's directing users to its own services by reducing the visibility of competing websites and services; content-scraping; contractual restrictions preventing advertisers from moving their online campaigns to rival search engines; and exclusivity deals with advertisers.

To alleviate the first concern Google proposes to present three rival links for each query. These will be clearly separated from Google's own services, which will also be clearly labelled. Where Google monetizes its services, the three rival links will be selected by auction, and Google proposes to drop its reserve price from €0.10 to €0.03 per click.

Commission sources said that the space offered for the rival links is much larger than in Google's previous proposals and will include dynamic text responsive to the user query. Sources say the Commission has also been given data by Google that shows a significantly improved click-through rate to rivals under the current proposals.

However users will be able to hide the rival results with a single click and Google will remember this choice for every category of "vertical" or topical search. At present there are only two defined categories, shopping and local. This means that with just two clicks a user could effectively eliminate rival offers.

Vertical or topical search is still small but is increasingly taking business from Google. According to comScore, searches conducted on traditional search services such as Google dropped three per cent in the second half of last year, while searches on topical sites increased by eight per cent, largely thanks to mobile applications.

Rivals will be asked what they think about these new proposals including whether rival links should be in shaded boxes.

Google has also agreed to allow content providers to opt-out of having their content used without that having an impact on search or adwords. For five years, Google will have no more exclusivity obligations written or unwritten, and will make online advertising campaigns much more portable.

The Commission can impose a fine of up to 10 percent of a company's annual revenue if it believes its concerns have not been addressed. It can also order changes in the company's operations to remove any antitrust breaches. However Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia is reluctant to go down this time-consuming route in the fast-moving IT sector, preferring to reach mutual agreement with companies under the so-called Article 9 provision. Once measures are accepted by the Commission, they become legally binding.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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Jennifer Baker

IDG News Service
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