Google hit with new anticompetition complaint in EU

Digital groups team up to file yet another complaint against the search giant

Google is abusing its dominate market position to promote its own services and stifle competition, alleges a new complaint filed against the company with the European Commission.

The Open Internet Project (OIP), which represents 400 EU startups, online publishers, consumer associations and digital rights groups, filed the complaint, which the Commission confirmed Thursday. The Commission said it will look into the complaint and examine it carefully before deciding whether an investigation is warranted.

Meanwhile, Google seems to have finally resolved a similar antitrust case with the Commission. EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said Thursday that he is satisfied the search giant had come up with acceptable remedies to the previous complaints.

Google has been under investigation by the Commission since November 2010 after competitors accused it of directing users to its own services by reducing the visibility of competing websites and services in search results.

The investigation had four main areas of concern: that Google directed 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 proposed to present three rival links for each query. These will be separated from Google's services and will be clearly labeled. It will also be indicated when Google promotes its own services.

Google has also agreed to allow content providers to opt-out of having their content used without it affecting search or AdWords. Google will also for five years remove all exclusivity obligations from advertising contracts and will make the portability of online advertising campaigns easier.

"These concessions would give a real opportunity to Google's rivals to attract users," Almunia said. "It would then be for users to choose the service they want to click on. These decisions are up to informed users, not to competition authorities."

"One principle must be clearly understood: The role of competition policy is not to prevent Google from innovating and offering new services. This would not be in the best interest of users. Our role is to ensure that Google does not prevent competitors from doing the same," he said.

However, the OIP says the remedies do not go far enough. "The European Commission is planning to give in to the giant by concluding a settlement largely behind closed doors that would in principle legalize Google's self-preference," the group said in a statement.

The OIP wants the Commission to impose stricter penalties on Google. But given that the case is similar to the one Almunia has just closed, he may be unwilling to revisit old arguments.

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

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