By Frederic Lardinois
Google’s search results in Europe could soon look a bit different if a number of new reports about the company’s settlement with the European Union’s competition commission are correct. After a three-year investigation into its potentially anti-competitive practices, Google submitted its proposal for an agreement with the EU last week, but the details remained under wraps. According to reports from the Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal, however, Google’s proposal includes a number of changes to how it will do business (at least in the EU).
According to these reports, Google has offered to “make users clearly aware” when it is linking to its own specialized services and vertical search engines. Every time Google promotes one of its own links, it will also show “at least three links to rival, non-Google sites that have information relevant to a user’s query,” the Wall Street Journal’s Amir Efrati reports. So whenever a search on Google would naturally highlight a result from Google+ Local, Google would also add links to sites like Yelp, UrbanSpoon, TripAdvisor or other relevant sites.
This part of the agreement would at least cover Google’s search services for restaurants, finance and shopping. Results from Google News, the Financial Times says, would “merely need to be labelled and separated.”
Under this proposed settlement, Google will also offer sites the ability to easily remove 10 percent of their content from its vertical search engines (though it’s not clear how this would actually work) and make it easier for advertisers to move their campaigns to other search engines (similar to what Google is doing in the U.S. after its settlement with the Federal Trade Commission earlier this year). Google’s search algorithm itself would remain untouched in this agreement.
If the EU agrees to these terms, Google will avoid the large financial penalties that the EU could have levied against the search company. The proposal, if the reports are correct, would be binding for five years, and a neutral third party would ensure that Google doesn’t stray from the agreement.
Google competitors, whose official complaint started this investigation, were probably hoping for larger changes, and fines will probably not be in favor of these relatively small changes Google is offering to make. Last week, FairSearch.org already filed another complaint against Google in the EU. This time, the organization, which is backed by Microsoft, Expedia, Oracle, TripAdvisor and 13 other search and technology companies, argues that Google is abusing its power “to dominate the mobile marketplace and cement its control over consumer Internet data for online advertising as usage shifts to mobile.”
Even if Google does settle this latest investigation with the EU then, chances are we haven’t heard the last of this.