Over a year after it first demanded that Google settle four counts of antitrust abuses related to its dominant search business, the European Commission (EC) has found the firm’s settlement attempt lacking. And this week, it told Google to offer yet another round of concessions or face sweeping antitrust charges.
“The proposals that Google sent to us are not enough to overcome our concerns,” EC Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said during a press conference Wednesday morning. “I wrote a letter to the president of Google, to [Eric] Schmidt, asking Google to present better proposals, or improved proposals.”
Antitrust interest in Google Search dates back to early 2010, when UK search firm Foundem complained to EC regulators that the search giant—which controls 80 percent of all searches in Europe and up to 90 percent in certain countries—was abusing its dominant market position. Backed by complaints from other competitors, including Microsoft, the EC began an investigation and in May 2012 it issued a curious ultimatum, telling Google to settle the case or be charged with antitrust violations.
At the time, the EC found four areas of abuse. Google artificially gave its own services preferential treatment in search results, harming competitors. Google stole content from competing services and presented it unattributed in its own results. Google forced advertisers to use its advertising services, shutting out competitors. And Google prevented advertisers from moving from Google to competing ad services.
By January, it appeared that Google was close to settling and it sent the EC a set of then-secret proposals aimed at addressing the EU’s four key areas of concern. In May, the New York Times erroneously reported that Google and the EU had settled, though the report did detail the concessions Google was prepared to make to avoid charges and fines of up to $5 billion. But later that month, it was revealed that the EC had found Google’s concessions lacking. It gave Google until the end of June to revise them.
With this week’s announcement, the EC is once again asking for further concessions. And though it’s unclear how many chances Google gets before Europe finally turns its regulatory might against the company, Google apparently believes it has already done enough.
“Our proposal to the European Commission clearly addresses the four areas of concern,” a Google spokesperson said.
Google has found a warmer reception to its search dominance in the United States. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had announced in 2011 that it was investigating Google for antitrust abuses, but the agency capitulated in January after Google offered to make two minor changes to the way it presents information in the search service.