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EU tells Google, make antitrust concessions within weeks, or face a fine

The three-year case could end soon

By Jennifer Baker, IDG News Service
January 15, 2014 08:51 AM ET

IDG News Service - Europe's competition chief is running out of patience with Google's attempts to avoid an antitrust fine.

Speaking in Brussels on Wednesday, E.U. Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said that the search giant has one more chance to make an offer and that he wanted more concessions from Google within weeks.

"I am waiting for the reaction from Google. Unfortunately after the second round of proposals, I am not satisfied -- we need more. And we need more, not in the next year, but in the next few weeks," he said.

Google has been under investigation by the European Commission since November 2010, after rivals accused the search giant of setting its algorithm to direct users to its own services by reducing the visibility of competing websites and services. It was also accused of content-scraping and imposing contractual restrictions that prevent advertisers from moving their online campaigns to rival search engines.

Rather than proceed directly to punitive action -- which could be up to 10 percent of Google's annual global revenue -- A Almunia chose to try to work out a set of remedies under a so-called Article 9 procedure. This allows the company under investigation to present proposals to rectify possible violations. If these proposals are accepted by the Commission, they become legally binding.

Google's first set of proposals were rejected last July and in October the Internet giant submitted revised proposals. Rivals and other interested parties were once again asked to review the proposals, and found them severely lacking.

Almunia said that he has taken criticism of Google's proposals very seriously and said that the negative feedback on the proposals was not just from complainants in the case. In his clearest signal yet that a fine may be in the offing, Almunia said on Wednesday, that if he doesn't get a satisfactory response from Google within weeks, then he would approach the case in a more "traditional" way.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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