Newspaper article International New York Times

Google Settles Its European Antitrust Case ; Critics Contend Company Got a Break, Although Small Firms Could Benefit

Newspaper article International New York Times

Google Settles Its European Antitrust Case ; Critics Contend Company Got a Break, Although Small Firms Could Benefit

Article excerpt

Google agreed to the harshest penalties it has yet received in an antitrust inquiry anywhere. But it escaped a fine and a finding of wrongdoing.

Google has agreed to a settlement with European competition regulators that leaves the company with a few bruises, yet victorious over all -- and would end half a decade of wrangles with the antitrust authorities across the globe.

Under the settlement, which awaits formal approval by the European Commission, Google agreed to the harshest penalties it has yet received in an antitrust inquiry anywhere. But it escaped a fine and a finding of wrongdoing. And it protected its crown jewel -- its secret algorithm -- from oversight by regulators, and avoided a court battle or potential consequences like a $5 billion fine or a ruling to make major changes to its company structure or its products.

The changes Google agreed to did little to satisfy the competitors whose formal complaints prompted the inquiry by European antitrust regulators. The investigation focused on whether Google abused its dominant position in the European search market, where it has about 90 percent market share, versus two-thirds in the United States.

"The basic pronouncement is Google's not an illegal business," said Tim Wu, a professor of antitrust law at Columbia Law School who worked on the United States Federal Trade Commission's antitrust case against Google, which concluded that Google had not violated antitrust law. "Their main business goes full speed ahead. Obviously what some of Google's competitors would have liked was much more aggressive."

The deal's limited scope, however, did not stop Joaquin Almunia, the European Union's competition commissioner, from hailing it as a major success.

"No other antitrust body has secured such concessions from Google," Mr. Almunia, a Spanish policy maker, told reporters on Wednesday. "The agreement is far-reaching and creates a level playing field across Europe."

The decision would require Google to give its rivals more prominence in specialized search results, like those for shopping, travel and local business reviews. The result would be a search engine that looks significantly different in Europe than it does in the United States. It is the latest effort by European officials to police the activities of the American tech giants that have come to dominate the digital world, including stepped-up scrutiny after revelations from Edward J. Snowden about United States government surveillance.

"We will be making significant changes to the way Google operates in Europe," Kent Walker, Google's general counsel, said in a statement. "We have been working with the European Commission to address issues they raised and look forward to resolving this matter."

Most noticeably, Google said it would display results from at least three competitors each time it shows its own results for specialized searches related to things like shopping, restaurants and travel. In some cases, competitors will pay when people click on these results. …

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