Google forced into an antitrust corner

Google, forced into compromise with the European Commission, has released a list of proposals to satisfy worries about it breaking antitrust laws – but these are likely to be rejected by rivals.

For five years, Google is offering to label its own promoted links in specialised search so that users can tell them apart from other results. It would also use clear graphical features, such as frames, to distinguish them, and display links to three rival specialised search services near its own services – in clear view of the user.

It also offers websites the option to opt out from the use of their content in Google search, while at the same time making sure that these opt outs do not affect the ranking of their websites overall.

Google proposed specialized search websites the option to mark categories of information in a way that isn’t indexed or used by Google, and to give news publishers the option for them to control the way their content appears in Google News. It would scrap written or unwritten obligations that force websites to use adverts exclusively from Google and would stop imposing obligations that prevent advertisers from managing search advertising across competing platforms.

Despite these concessions, industry rivals are expected to dismiss Google’s offers as too little too late.

Google’s competition has one month to comment on the proposals. If they are accepted, Google must stick to them for five years and publish the results in each EC nation. If they are not accepted, EC competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia has the power to force Google into following a strict code of conduct. Failure to do so could result in fines of up to 10 percent of the company’s global revenues.

Companies who initially filed antitrust complaints against Google include Foundem, part of a group called ICOMP – itself partially funded by Microsoft. Ciao, the consumer comparison website, was also previously acquired by Microsoft to help it increase its presence in search, but is now owned by LeGuide Group. 

Microsoft itself is very well versed in anti-trust law having had to cope with accusations levied at it over the years. As such, it’s unlikely that anything that could pose a severe threat to Google – or manage to dampen its near-monopoly – will get much reprieve from Microsoft.

Foundem co-founder Shivaun Raff used fiery rhetoric, the Guardian reports, saying the “only foolproof way to tackle abusive practices is to end them”, and that Google must hold all services to the same standard it holds itself.