Google Offers to Settle E.U. Antitrust Case

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BRUSSELS -- Google offered to settle an antitrust investigation in Europe on Monday, seeking to avoid a potentially huge fine and requirements to change the way it runs its lucrative search and advertising businesses.

The offer came in the form of a letter from Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, to the European competition commissioner, Joaquín Almunia, according to Antoine Colombani, a spokesman for Mr. Almunia.

Al Verney, a spokesman for Google, said the company had "made a proposal to address the four areas the European Commission described as potential concerns."

"We continue to work cooperatively with the commission," Mr. Verney said.

Mr. Almunia said in May that the company might have abused its dominance in Internet search by promoting its own businesses at the expense of competitors. He also warned the company to propose changes in a matter of weeks to its methods of answering queries, or face formal objections in the case.

Mr. Colombani declined to disclose the contents of Mr. Schmidt's letter.

But antitrust experts said that Google would be extremely wary of giving away too much at this stage, partly because of the ramifications for its business beyond Europe. Regulators elsewhere could take what Google offers in Europe as a starting point for their own demands.

The company is also under investigation in the United States, South Korea and India following similar complaints.

The commission's overture to Google to settle was a rare move by the commission, which is seeking to speed up resolution of antitrust cases, particularly in the fast-changing technology marketplace, before proposed remedies lose their relevance.

In previous antitrust cases in Europe involving other U.S. technology giants like Microsoft and Intel, investigations ran for about a decade before the commission ordered the companies to change their business practices.

If Mr. Almunia accepted Google's offer, the company would avoid a guilty finding that could restrict its business activities in Europe in the future. The company also would avoid a possible fine of up 10 percent of its annual global revenue, which amounted to $37.9 billion last year.

In May, Mr. Almunia said Google might have unfairly exploited its market position by displaying links to its own services, like Google maps or images, when it answered a query, giving preference to its services over those of competitors.

He also has said Google included material in its own search results that was copied from competitors' Web sites that offer services like restaurant guides and travel advice.

Two areas of concern involved how Google conducts its advertising business, including how it delivers search ads on partner sites.

Google has previously said that innovation online has never been greater and that it was working with the commission to resolve any concerns.

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times. First Published July 2, 2012 1:00 PM


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