Bowing to "very, very negative" complaints from Google's competitors, regulators from the European Commission will now demand more concessions from the search giant in its four-year-old antitrust case. Google and the EU had effectively come to a settlement in the case, but this decision delays any settlement until Google responds, the EC says.
"We are trying to understand the arguments of the complainants and trying to extract from Google solutions to these solid arguments," EU competition commission Joaquin Almunia Monday. "Some complainants have introduced new arguments, new data, [and] new considerations. We now need to analyze this and see if we can find solutions, Google can find solutions, to some of these concerns that we find justified."
Given the slowness at which the EU has moved in this case—it formally announced the charges in 2010 after years of investigations and spent the intervening time trying to accommodate Google with a preemptive settlement rather than go to trial—it's unlikely that it will now be concluded before Mr. Almunia leaves office in November. He had hoped to wrap up the Google search case before retiring.
But Google's competitors demanded more concessions, noting that Almunia's settlement was ineffective. Google owns 90 percent usage share in search in Europe, a monopoly, and the firm had been found to have been deliberately downplaying competitors in search results in order to artificially promote its own services.
While some these competitors raised the issues that finally spurred ploddingly slow EU regulators to some semblance of action, anger at Mr. Almunia's weak settlement with the search giant has expanded to include politicians from all over Europe as well as new companies, including publishers, that see Google stomping over their own efforts. The central complaint is simple: Google should not be able to address a complaint about its artificially created search results by continuing to artificially generate them to accommodate only certain rules. Instead, they say, Google should be forced to provide truly organic search results to users.
For Google's foes, waiting out Mr. Almunia's term of office is key because whomever steps into his shoes will almost certainly demand more of Google than the accommodating current competition commissioner. But Google pledged compliance.
"We continue to work with the European Commission to resolve the concerns they have raised," a statement from the company notes.
But despite its legal appeasement in the now-tenuous settlement, a blog post from Google chairman Eric Schmidt formally claims the firm has done no wrong.
"It's not the case that Google is 'the gateway to the Internet' as [the firm's competitors] suggest," Mr. Schmidt claims. "Nor is it true to say that we are promoting our own products at the expense of the competition ... we're trying to get you direct answers to your queries because it's quicker and less hassle than the ten blue links Google used to show ... Many specialized search services don't like these improvements because they mean less traffic for them."