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Monday, May 21, 2012

EU's Almunia offers Google chance to settle antitrust case


(Reuters) - The European Union's antitrust chief on Monday offered Google a chance to settle an investigation into allegations of anti-competitive behavior after the world's most popular search engine indicated its willingness to resolve the issue amicably.

The European Commission launched investigation into Google in November 2010 after rivals, including Microsoft, accused the company of manipulating search results and promoting its own advertising services while demoting their rivals'.

EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said regulators were as keen as Google to avoid lengthy proceedings due to the fast-moving nature of the technology industry and said that if remedies were offered by Google within the coming weeks, the antitrust investigation could be brought to a close.

"I believe that these fast moving markets would particularly benefit from a quick resolution of the competition issues identified. Restoring competition swiftly to the benefit of users at an early stage is always better than lengthy proceedings," Almunia told a news briefing.

"Google has repeatedly expressed to me its willingness to discuss any concerns that the Commission might have without having to engage in adversarial proceedings, this is why today I'm giving Google an opportunity to offer remedies to address concerns that we have identified," he said.

If Google can come up with remedies and the Commission finds the proposals acceptable following a market test, it could then drop the 18-month-long investigation, Almunia said, adding that he wanted proposals from Google "in a matter of weeks".

There are currently 16 complaints against Google before the Commission, with the latest grievances coming from several online travel agencies such as TripAdvisor, Opodo and eDreams.

The majority of complainants are from small competitors across Europe. Google has denied that it stifles competition. U.S. authorities are also investigating Google, which controls more than two-thirds of the global search market.

The Commission can fine companies up to 10 percent of their global turnover for breaching EU rules and has handed down multi-million euro fines to Microsoft and Intel, among others, in the past.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee)


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