The man leading the European Union’s investigation into Google’s alleged violations of competition rules says a settlement could be reached later this year. Joaquin Almunia says he’s ready to start gathering feedback on Google’s suggested settlement deal.
The issues at stake are much the same as in the recently concluded US probe that led to Google escaping without serious punishment: Google has a dominant share of the search market and Google’s ranking algorithm appears to be biased towards its own products and partners. Neither of these issues breaks any rules in themselves, but the combination of the two might be unfairly anticompetitive.
The probe is also looking at some other issues such as Google allegedly copying material such as reviews from rival sites, and making it more difficult for advertisers to jump ship.
The EU revealed last July that Google has put forward a proposed settlement in the hope of avoiding a formal ruling and punishment. Exactly what that settlement involves hasn’t been made public, but leaks and rumors suggest Google is prepared to ease up on advertisers and to more clearly label which search results are for sites it controls or has a relationship with.
Almunia today told Bloomberg that “We could have an accord after the summer vacations, if this all works. One could see this as a possible date.”
Google will likely be confident of being able to reach a settlement that doesn’t cause it too much pain given its experiences with the Federal Trade Commission. FTC officials are believed to have concluded that there wasn’t enough certainty of proving their case to take the issue as far as a formal legal ruling against Google.
A settlement on search activity certainly wouldn’t end Google’s problems with European officials however. As we noted on Tuesday, privacy regulators from each of the EU’s 27 member countries gathered together last year to come up with a list of suggested changes Google should make to meet rules on data handling. They are now said to be extremely disgruntled at the lack of action Google has taken in response and are talking with one another about taking things to the next step in the regulatory enforcement process.