Google Submits EU Anti-Trust Proposal, But it’s Unlikely to Wriggle its Way Out This Time

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Google has just beaten the deadline to submit its proposal on how it plans to conduct its search engine business in future, in the latest round of its ongoing European anti-trust probe.

Antoine Colombani, spokesperson for the European Union’s Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia, confirmed that the regulatory body had received the files, adding that these are “now being analyzed” before any further response can be made.

We probably won’t find out what Google has put forward for several days, or possibly even weeks, but the proposal will lay out the terms under which the internet giant is prepared to settle with the EU’s anti-trust commission, which has been investigating it for alleged anti-competitive behavior.

According to AllThingsD, Google only just met last night’s 12am deadline (Brussels’s time) with barley minutes to spare.

Google was ordered to come up with the proposal last year as a way of avoiding facing charges under the EU’s strict competition laws. The firm has been accused of, amongst other things, scraping content from other company’s websites, being biased towards its own services in its search engine results, and shutting out competing advertising networks. By proposing to amend its ways, Google is hoping that it can avoid EU sanctions and with it, get out of admitting any wrongdoing.

The case mirrors a similar investigation carried out by the FTC in the US, in which many critics believe Google got off with little more than a ‘slap on the wrist’ after it made a number of promises to change its ways.

Most likely, Google will propose a similar arrangement to the one that got the FTC off of its back, albeit with a few alterations.

The biggest difference will probably relate to how Google labels its own services in Europe, something that Mr. Almunia touched upon last month when he suggested that the company should ‘clearly label’ services like Google Shopping when these are artificially ranked higher than organic search results.

Even more interesting will be whether or not Google makes any concessions over its preferential treatment for its own services against those of rival companies – a practice that the company has always denied doing in the past. In the US, Google managed to squirm its way out of this one after the FTC’s commission ruled that there was “no evidence” that Google was doing this, but it might find it harder to do so this time around, as the EU does things quite differently. Unlike in the US, where the commissioners make the decisions alone, in Europe the third-party complainants (which number more than 20) also have a say in whether or not any settlement is acceptable. What’s more, they also have legal rights – meaning that if Almunia decided to go against their wishes and settle, he too could also end up in court alongside Google, if third parties decided to reject the settlement. Simply put, Google will have to address the accusation of bias somehow if it wants to avoid going to court.

It’s a tricky one for Google, as it really does seem to be caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, if it sticks to its guns it could well end up being sanctioned and fined millions of dollars. But unfortunately for them the alternative isn’t much better, for if it bends over backwards to settle with the EU, its businesses would likely lose just as much in revenues over the long term, simply because it would have to start competing on fair terms.