By Dow Jones Business News,
January 15, 2014, 08:45:00 AM EDT
EU Issues Stark Warning to Google
BRUSSELS--The European Union issued a stark warning to Google Inc. Wednesday, saying the Internet search company has
just weeks to settle its high-profile antitrust case.
The EU's antitrust chief, Joaquín Almunia, said Google had one last chance to put forward proposals to definitely
address concerns that it is abusing its dominance in online search.
"I'm waiting for this last opportunity to solve this," Mr. Joaquín Almunia said, adding that he was still
awaiting a response from Google following his comments last month that its latest proposals were "unacceptable".
"We need more, not during the next year, but during the next weeks. I have not yet received this answer," Mr. Almunia
told reporters in Brussels.
The comments are the strongest signal yet from Brussels that time is running out for Google and that a formal
complaint--the start of a legal process that could lead to hefty fines--may only be just around the corner. The EU could
fine Google up to 10% of its global revenues.
Mr. Almunia had earlier said he hoped to reach a settlement by the spring but has come under intense pressure to take
a harder line after rivals and consumer groups blasted Google's latest offer, saying it did little to counter fears that
Google is promoting its own products and services to the detriment of those of rivals.
He upped the pressure Wednesday, saying that if no improvement was forthcoming, regulators would "go the traditional
route" of launching a formal complaint, known as a statement of objections.
Google now has just a few weeks left if it wants to settle the case, meaning it would have to accept legally-binding
commitments without implying any wrongdoing.
The company couldn't be immediately reached for comment. It said last month that it had made "significant changes to
address [EU] concerns, greatly increasing the visibility of rival services and addressing other specific issues."
The European Commission, the EU's competition authority, launched its probe into Google more than three years ago, and
has set out four key grievances: that it unfairly promotes its own search results, copies or "scrapes" content from
other sites without permission, forces publishers to sign exclusivity deals, and dissuades its clients from using other
online advertising sites.
The company's first proposals were flatly rejected earlier in spring 2013, and rivals and third-parties, such as
consumer groups, responded said its second offer, filed last October, was only a scant improvement. Google's rivals,
such as Microsoft Corp. and online travel site operator, TripAdvisor.com, say they are discriminated against in vertical
search, such as price comparison and restaurant review websites.
Google had offered to more prominently display three results from rival search engines in a box under its own results.
The rivals would have to pay through an auction mechanism to be featured in the box, though Google has lowered its
original proposed auction prices.
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