Brussels orders Google to change way it presents results

Google will be forced to change the way it presents search results in Europe or face sanctions from Brussels for unfairly manipulating its position as the world’s biggest internet search engine.

By Katherine Rushton, Media, Telecoms and Technology Editor 7:24PM GMT 10 Jan 2013

The European Union’s competition chief, Joaquin Almunia, told a newspaper that it is his “conviction” that Google is unfairly promoting links to its own services above those of third party companies, and that he fears it is abusing its dominant position.

Google has been locked in a long-running row over whether it has changed its search results to give preferential treatment to links to its own services, at the expense of those from competitors.

Last week US regulators gave Google the all-clear, but Mr Almunia, who is heading up a Brussels’ investigation into the matter, made it clear that he will take the opposite stance.

“We are still investigating, but my conviction is [Google is] diverting traffic,” he said.

“They are monetising this kind of business, the strong position they have in the general search market...This is not only a dominant position, I think – I fear – there is an abuse of this dominant position.”

Mr Almunia stressed that he was more concerned with the way that Google presents its results, rather than the complex codes at their heart. This distinction has sparked speculation that Google could be forced to clearly mark links to its own services, where it is found to have manipulated the search results to push them up the search rankings.

Google chairman Eric Schmidt met with Mr Almunia shortly before Christmas to discuss possible ways in which the search engine could resolve the issue. Mr Almunia gave Google a month to come up with detailed proposals about potential concessions.

By contrast, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) hailed Google as “one of America’s Great Companies,” when it cleared the search giant of any wrongdoing last week. Although Google was changing the complex codes it was doing to so to improve the quality of results rather than to eliminate the competition, the FTC ruled.

Google’s rivals reacted angrily to the FTC judgment. Microsoft branded it “weak” and “unusual” and called on Brussels to take a firmer stance.

A Google spokesman said: "We continue to cooperate with the European Union."


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