London, Feb. 5: Google reached a deal with European antitrust authorities today, ending a lengthy competition investigation into the American tech company’s practices that could have led to billions of dollars in penalties.
Under the agreement, Google would pay no fine and there would be no finding of wrongdoing. Such a finding could have limited its future activities on the Continent.
The discussions have centred on whether Google abused its dominance in Internet search and advertising to favour its own products and services in search results. The agreement would require Google to give rivals more prominence in its promoted results.
Some competitors said the settlement doesn’t go far enough, adding that they may take their case to the European Court of Justice.
The European Commission said it would seek comment from Google’s rivals before making the deal legally binding later this year, though JoaquíAlmunia, the EU’s competition commissioner, said any feedback would be unlikely to drastically change the final agreement.
“If I receive strong arguments that oblige changes to my decision, I am always ready, I am flexible,” Almunia told reporters today. “I don’t see why, from now on, I would change my mind based on the proposals Google has put forward.”
The deal marks the culmination of almost four years of negotiations between Google and the EU, whose officials rejected two earlier settlement offers. Google is used for roughly 90 per cent of searches in many European markets, slightly higher than its 70 per cent market share in the US.
Almunia, who leaves his post later this year, had made the antitrust settlement with Google a top priority, though some analysts question whether the agreement will drastically alter Google’s dominance within Europe’s Internet landscape.
As part of the deal, Google will have to give greater prominence to rivals in European search results for the next five years, which could lead to major changes in how its search business operates in Europe compared to other parts of the world.
That includes displaying results from three competitors every time Google shows its own results for searches related to products, restaurants and hotels.
Rivals will have to pay Google each time their results are shown next to the search giant’s own results through a bidding process overseen by an independent monitor, according to European officials.
The settlement also includes making it easier for advertisers to move their business to rivals like Yahoo.