Clock ticking for Google after EU rejects latest antitrust offer

Fri Dec 20, 2013 11:50am EST
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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Google has been told it is running out of time to improve its offer to settle a European Union investigation into anti-competitive behavior or face formal charges that could lead to a hefty fine.

EU antitrust chief Joaquin Almunia rejected the internet search giant's latest concessions on Friday and warned that it has only a short time left to make a satisfactory offer.

Google has been investigated by the European Commission antitrust regulator for three years over complaints that it blocked competitors in search results.

The company's original proposal in April to resolve the matter was rejected by its competitors, including Microsoft and British price-comparison website Foundem, who said that the changes would only reinforce its dominance.

Google proposed new concessions in an attempt to avert a possible fine of up to $5 billion, and the Commission asked 125 of Google's rivals and third parties to provide feedback on these in October.

Almunia said the revised proposals did not go far enough.

"The latest proposals are not acceptable in the sense that they are not proposals that can eliminate our concerns regarding competition," Almunia said in a radio interview with Spain's RNE.

Almunia said that, in particular, Google's latest offer did not remove concerns about the treatment of Google's rivals in so-called vertical searches, which are specialized searches for a particular product or a restaurant.

Asked if there would be sanctions against Google, Almunia said: "No, no, no ... At this moment, there is little time left, but the ball is still in Google's court. But within a short time frame the ball will then be here (with the European Commission) and then it will be the moment to take decisions."   Continued...

An illustration picture shows a Google logo with two one Euro coins, taken in Munich January 15, 2013. REUTERS/Michael Dalder