* Rivals remain critical of Google proposals
* Responses must be submitted within four weeks
By Foo Yun Chee
BRUSSELS, Oct 28 EU regulators have asked 125
Google rivals and third parties to provide feedback on
the company's second attempt to settle a three-year-long
antitrust investigation and avert a possible $5 billion fine.
The European Commission's hopes of closing the case next
spring, however, suffered a setback after several rivals
criticised Google's latest offer for not being materially
different from a proposal made in April.
Google's original proposal in April was rejected by its
competitors, who said that the changes would only reinforce the
company's dominance. That prompted the EU antitrust authority to
demand fresh concessions from the U.S. company.
The company tweaked its offer this month to allow rivals to
display their logos and make their web links more prominent to
users. In areas where all search results can be paid
advertisements, such as shopping searches, Google will cut the
minimum bids it will accept from advertisers seeking to buy
slots on result pages, to 3 cents from 10 cents.
It will also relax conditions that prevent advertisers from
moving their campaigns to other platforms, such as Yahoo! and
Furthermore, Google's rivals will also have more control
over what the company can copy from their websites in a practice
known as scraping. Google is now proposing that its rivals,
which had previously complained that Google copied content from
their websites without permission, will decide which content the
company can use.
Google has also agreed to appoint an independent trustee to
monitor the process over the next five years.
"The Commission is sending today information requests,"
Antoine Colombani, the Commission spokesman for competition
policy, said in an email on Monday.
"Information is sought, in particular, from complainants in
the ongoing proceedings and from all those who responded to the
initial market test of Google's proposals, which the Commission
launched in April."
Google said it had done its best to improve on its earlier
"We've made significant changes to address the EC's
concerns, greatly increasing the visibility of rival services
and addressing other specific issues," Google spokesman Al
"Unfortunately, our competitors seem less interested in
resolving things than in entangling us in a never-ending
Lobby group FairSearch, whose members include complainants
Microsoft, online travel agency Expedia and
British price comparison site Foundem, expressed doubts over the
effectiveness of Google's proposal.
"It seems that no genuinely significant changes have been
made to the initial proposal, so it is difficult to see how the
new package can hope to solve the competition concerns Mr
Almunia (the EU Competition Commissioner, Joaquin Almunia) has
declared must be addressed," FairSearch lawyer Thomas Vinje
ICOMP, another lobby group that that counts Microsoft and
four other complainants among its members, agreed.
"Google still doesn't appear to have offered anything that
will prevent it from systematically preferencing its own
services and manipulating results, a clear failure of the
initial offer," said ICOMP lawyer David Wood.
Google could face a $5 billion fine if the Commission
decides not to accept its rejigged offer after the second market
test but decides instead to charge the company with breaching
European Union antitrust rules.
The Commission has given the 125 rivals and third parties
four weeks to respond to its feedback request.