European Executives Ask Antitrust Chief to Be Tough on Google

With the European antitrust inquiry into Google’s search engine practices entering a third year, a group of 11 Web businesses on Thursday sent a joint letter with Europe’s top antitrust official, asking him to compel Google to change its business practices to ensure that smaller rivals are not unfairly harmed.
The letter, organized by one of the original complainants in the case, a British online shopping service called Foundem, asked the European competition commissioner, Joaquin Almunia, to take a hard line in ongoing negotiations with Google to produce “effective and future-proof” concessions that will protect small European competitors.
The commission, which has expressed concerns about Google’s use of algorithmic standards to rank its own services ahead of those of some competitors, is studying Google’s own proposals to avoid litigation, and may decide soon on whether to settle the matter or initiate a prosecution that could lead to a conviction and big fines.
“We are becoming increasingly concerned that effective and future-proof remedies might not emerge through settlement discussions alone,” the letter signed by the group stated. “In addition to materially degrading the user experience and limiting consumer choice, Google’s search manipulation practices lay waste to entire classes of competitors in every sector where Google chooses to deploy them.”
Neither Google nor Mr. Almunia were immediately available for comment.
Mr. Almunia, a Spanish jurist, asked Google in December to submit its final proposals to settle the case, which began in February 2010 when complaints were filed in Brussels by Foundem; Ciao, a German price comparison site; and Ejustice.fr, a French legal advice site.
The letter was signed by senior executives at six European online businesses: Foundem and Streetmap EU, both in Britain; Twenga, a French-based price comparison site; and Visual Meta, Hot Maps Medien and Euro-Cities, three German online businesses.
Executives at two American Web businesses, Expedia and TripAdvisor, also signed, as well as the directors of three German associations representing the publishers of newspapers, magazines and independent telephone books.
 
By Kevin J. O'Brien
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