Google given deadline to fix anti-trust concerns

Posted by Emma Woollacott

The European Commission has given Google one last chance to put its house in order and explain how it plans to ease anti-trust concerns.

The EC says that, after a lengthy investigation, there are still four areas of concern that urgently need addressing.

First, says the EC, Google displays links to its own vertical search services differently from the way it handles links to competitors; and, second, it copies material from its competitors.

Third, it's concerned that Google's deals with advertisers shut out competing providers; and, fourth, that Google places too many restrictions on the portability of online search advertising campaigns from AdWords to competing platforms.

"We are concerned that Google imposes contractual restrictions on software developers which prevent them from offering tools that allow the seamless transfer of search advertising campaigns across AdWords and other platforms for search advertising," says says Joaquín Almunia, vice president of the European Commission responsible for competition policy.

Almunia says he's written to Eric Schmidt, asking him to come up with suggestions on how to deal eith these issues in the next few weeks.

"I believe that these fast-moving markets would particularly benefit from a quick resolution of the competition issues identified," he says.

"Restoring competition swiftly to the benefit of users at an early stage is always preferable to lengthy proceedings, although these sometimes become indispensable to competition enforcement."

FairSearch - a coalition of search companies headed by Microsoft - says it welcomes the move - although it's cynical about how far Google will be prepared to go.

"During the talks, Google will have to demonstrate a level of co-operation beyond what it showed to the US Federal Communications Commission, which recently found Google 'deliberately impeded and delayed' a probe," it says.

"Google will also have to be more persuasive than it was to the Federal Trade Commission, which after talking with the company for many months, took the extraordinary step of appointing former Justice Department prosecutor Beth Wilkinson as a special counsel to lead the FTC’s investigation into Google potential violations of antitrust and consumer protection laws."