Google may avoid European court battle

July 25, 2012

Google may avoid European court battleThe European Union has announced it is in serious talks to reach a settlement with Google in an ongoing antitrust case. The settlement would avoid a lengthy court case and the potential for large fines.

The case is similar in principle to questions raised by politicians and officials in theUS. It centers on two points: Google has a very large market share inEurope(estimated at 90 percent of searches); and Google appears to favor its own products and services when determining the order and prominence of search results.

Neither of these points is illegal in itself. The argument is that the combination of the two may constitute unfair, unreasonable or even unlawful behavior under European Union trading rules.

There are also claims Google took content from review sites without permission, that it blocks some rival companies from advertising on Google, and that it puts up technical barriers to make it harder for Google advertisers to take their campaigns elsewhere.

Google has now put forward a proposed settlement. The EU says there’s enough substance to the proposals that it is ready to discuss the technical details of how they would work. That, and the fact that the EU has gone public, suggests it is happy with the general principle of what Google’s offering.

There’s no word whatsoever on what the settlement might involve, other than the fact that it’s probably going to involve Google changing its policies rather than paying large penalties. The chances are it won’t formally admit to any wrongdoing as this could open it up to legal action from companies who believe their sites have been unfairly downgraded in Google rankings.

While it’s clear that Google would benefit from avoiding a formal judgment and potentially heavy penalties, the New York Times also notes that a settlement might be in the interests of the EU as well. It argues that by the time the case concluded, any changes the EU ordered might be irrelevant because the Internet world changes so rapidly.

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