Google Settlement Ends Years of EU Antitrust Inquiries

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In 2010, European regulators began investigating claims that Google abused its dominance in Internet search and advertising by favoring its own products and services in search results. Google powers 90 percent of searches in many European markets; its share in the United States is closer to 70 percent. After almost four years, regulators have finally reached a settlement with Google. However, given that Google's business model has reportedly changed drastically in the past few years, many believe the settlement will have little impact on the company's dominance of the market in Europe.

Accordingly, the settlement agreement would require Google to give its competitors more prominence in specialized search results. The main provisions of Google’s antitrust settlement with the European Commission include —

  • Results from at least three competitors must be displayed every time Google shows its own results for specialized searches related to things like products, restaurants and travel.
  • Competitors will pay Google each time someone clicks on certain types of results shown next to Google’s own results; the process will be overseen by an independent monitor paid for by Google. Currently, rivals do not show up in Google’s specialized search results.
  • Content providers like Yelp will be given the choice of opting out of Google’s specialized search services. Those that do so will not be penalized in Google’s normal search rankings.
  • Google will eliminate some restrictions that have made it difficult for advertisers to move campaigns to rival sites, and allow sites that use Google's search tool to show ads from other services.
  • The agreement is to last for five years and affects any search and promoted-product services that Google introduces in Europe.

Although the agreement imposes the harshest penalties Google has yet to receive for antitrust allegations, it did allow Google to avoid a court battle, a potential fine of up to $5 billion and a finding of wrongdoing that could limit its future activities. Most importantly, Google was allowed to protect its secret algorithm from regulatory oversight.

Google still remains under scrutiny in the European Union for other business practices, including privacy complaints about Google’s mapping services, tax disputes related to the company’s European operations and an antitrust investigation related to the Android operating system. The search giant is not the first US company to face European antitrust inquiries — European regulators took on Microsoft in the 1990s — and it will not be the last. With an overview of basic competition-law principles, WeComply's online EU Competition Law and Global Competition Law courses can prepare employees to avoid antitrust violations.

Topics:  Antitrust Investigations, EU, Google, Settlement

Published In: Antitrust & Trade Regulation Updates, Science, Computers & Technology Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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