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FT: Almunia Aims to Address Google’s Search Bias

According to a report today from the Financial Times, Joaquin Almunia, Europe’s top antitrust regulator, is determined to address Google’s anti-competitive practice of manipulating search results in the European Commission’s investigation of the search giant.

Google will be forced to change how it presents search results or face antitrust charges for “diverting traffic” to its own services, the Times reported, citing an interview with Almunia:

“‘We are still investigating, but my conviction is [Google] are diverting traffic,’ Mr Almunia told the Financial Times, referring to Google’s preferential treatment of its own vertical search services.

“‘They are monetising this kind of business, the strong position they have in the general search market and this is not only a dominant position, I think – I fear – there is an abuse of this dominant position.’”

“His words mark a direct ultimatum to Google as talks on a pre-charge settlement enter a critical phase. The interview offers the most detailed public explanation of Brussels’ concerns and hints at the likely shape of any deal, which would mark the first time Google has bowed to regulatory pressure on its core business.”

The Times added that Google made a strong offer last month to Almunia and is set to make a formal proposal by the end of January. However, Almunia warned that he would be “obliged” to file formal charges against the company if the proposal was unsatisfactory.

FairSearch applauds Commissioner Almunia for standing up for consumers, small and medium-sized enterprises and innovative companies on the Internet by demanding that Google bring a change to its practice of biasing search results in favor of its own products. Action from the European Commission and state attorneys general is all the more important given that the Federal Trade Commission failed in its mission to protect the public against the insidious nature of Google’s deceptive practices. Now, as Almunia has said, it is up to Google to decide once and for all whether it will voluntarily commit to a binding change in its search practices, or if it will force the European Commission and others to adopt formal proceedings leading to that end.