Google could be about to wrap up an EU antitrust investigation into how it displays search results.
The New York Times reports that the European Union has accepted a proposed settlement put forward by Google and cites two people briefed on the agreement that say Google will not have to change its search results algorithm.
The EU's antitrust probe began almost two years ago, upon receipt of complaint that Google was unfairly skewing search results. Google competitors accused the Mountain View-based company of promoting its own services over competing websites. According to the NYT, Google's proposal would see it label search results that link to its own services in areas where it doesn't make money from search results. In areas where Google sells ads, such as business reviews, it will show links to a minimum of three competing websites. Finally, in areas where search results are paid, Google will auction links to rivals. Google would be bound by the settlement terms for five years but would face no fines from the EU unless it breaches the terms of the agreement, of course.
Though the EU has apparently accepted these terms, the changes won't come into effect until next month. In the mean time, the EU is doing what's called 'market testing.' This process allows rivals and others in the industry to provide feedback on the proposed changes. If the latest reports are anything to go by, they're not going to like it.
"If what has been proposed is labelling or a modified form of labelling, frankly that's a non-starter," said David Wood, a lawyer for Brussels-based industry group ICOMP told the Sydney Morning Herald. ICOMP, which bills itself as an industry initiative for organisations and businesses involved in internet commerce, includes companies like Microsoft, hot-map.com, the Premier League, and Ppl. Unfortunately for ICOMP, SMH reports that even with negative market testing, the European Commission can go ahead with the settlement. However, if it goes down that road, it may be looking at an appeal.
If everything works out in Google's favor, this could be the end of a drawn-out antitrust probe. However, the search giant may be facing another one. Antitrust regulators last week received a complaint that Google is using "deceptive conduct" to lockout the competition in the mobile search market.