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European Commission Exploring ‘Technical’ Changes to Google Anti-Competitive Practices

News of a potential deal between Google and Joaquín Almunia, Vice President of the European Commission and the commissioner responsible for competition, still leaves open the question, what concessions has the Internet search and advertising giant agreed to in principle? And, if the agreement will bring meaningful, legally enforceable changes that will restore competition to the Internet marketplace.

Almunia told MLex yesterday that his office has been explaining its concerns and possible remedies to Google over the last few weeks. “We have reached a good degree of understanding, and hopefully in the coming days or next week we will have the first technical meeting,” he said.

In May, Almunia outlined four areas of concern, namely, how Google promotes its own services over others in search results; “scrapes” content from other websites; engages in anti-competitive advertising agreements; and restricts advertisers from moving campaigns to rival advertising platforms. In June, Almunia said he wanted to give Google a chance to propose remedies that would avoid a lengthy formal proceeding on the Commission’s concerns that Google may be violating EU laws. More recently, Almunia indicated he was also concerned that Google’s mobile services may also be violating EU competition and consumer protection laws.

Today, while not talking about the substance of the agreement, Almunia said in a press conference that Google has agreed to address the four concerns he previously expressed, but also made clear that no actual deal has been reached.

“Around these four objections, Google agrees to find solutions,” Almunia said. “We will explore, technically, the kind of solutions Google presents to us and hopefully we will be able to reach a settlement.”

Almunia also said there are still other areas to be possibly probed.

“As I’ve said on previous occasions, I remind you that some other aspects of the Google activity can be investigated also,” he said. “We have not opened any other investigation but I don’t exclude that in the future.”

Bloomberg reported that such areas could include mobile applications.

“I have reasons to believe that it’s worth the work that will be carried out in the coming months and hopefully this will give us a good result,” Almunia said of preparing to enter into ‘technical’ conversations with Google in the hopes of reaching a rapid change to its anti-competitive practices. Though, the adoption of a Statement of Objections by the European Commission is still entirely possible, he said: “And maybe these efforts will not give us an adequate solution and we will continue our investigation.”

Yesterday, FairSearch called for a “rapid, substantive and legally enforceable change to Google’s business practices that steer users to its own products and away from others. Only when these practices end will Google’s ongoing harm to consumers and innovators end.”

That is ultimately the goal of raising awareness of Google’s anti-competitive practices around the world – putting a stop to them.