European Commission Seeks Input on Google Commitments

EC is Concerned Google May Be Abusing its Dominance in Search, Ads

The European Commission has sought public comment on proposals Google has made to resolve the EC's ongoing concern the company has used what EC says is its dominant position in search and search advertising.

The EC said that if they were satisfied with the commitment, they might make them legally binding on Google.

Google has proposed that it:

  1. "label promoted links to its own specialized search services so that users can distinguish them from natural Web search results;
  2. "clearly separate these promoted links from other Web search results by clear graphical features (such as a frame), and display links to three rival specialized search services close to its own services, in a place that is clearly visible to users; 
  3. "offer all websites the option to opt-out from the use of all their content in Google's specialized search services, while ensuring that any opt-out does not unduly affect the ranking of those web sites in Google's general Web search results; 
  4. "offer all specialized search websites that focus on product search or local search the option to mark certain categories of information in such a way that such information is not indexed or used by Google;
  5. "provide newspaper publishers with a mechanism allowing them to control on a Web page per Web page basis the display of their content in Google News;
  6. "no longer include in its agreements with publishers any written or unwritten obligations that would require them to source online search advertisements exclusively from Google; and
  7. "no longer impose obligations that would prevent advertisers from managing search advertising campaigns across competing advertising platforms."

Google also anticipates that there would be an independent monitor.

The Federal Trade Commission in January closed its almost two-year investigation into the same issues, concluding that Google's search rankings, on balance, were to improve consumer experience rather than bias them anti-competitively in favor of Google content and that Google's conduct did not violate American law. But Google also made pledges to the FTC, which then chairman Jon Leibowitz said were legally enforceable binding commitments.

By contrast, in March, the EC came to the preliminary conclusion that various Google practices "may" violate antitrust rules. Those included the favorable treatment of Google's own specialized services in Web searches, the use without consent of original content from third-party sites in those specialized services, and restrictions on being able to transfer online search ad campaign to rivals.

The EC said those practices could "harm consumers by reducing choice and stifling innovation in the fields of specialized search services and online search advertising."