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Google discloses details of E.U. antitrust settlement bid

By Peter Sayer
February 14, 2014 01:10 PM ET

With the approval of the Commission, it will appoint one or more persons to act as a monitoring trustee, ensuring Google's compliance with the commitments. The trustee will be paid by Google. Such positions can cause conflict: Apple is in dispute with the U.S. Department of Justice over the role of a monitoring trustee appointed in an antitrust case involving ebook pricing.

Just 21 pages of the document are commitments: Nine of them concern search ranking, with the role of the monitoring trustee taking up seven -- and another six in an annex. Another annex explains how Google ranks search results, while a third devotes 50 pages to screen-shots of how Google proposes to display search results for services that rival its own.

This is not the first time Google's proposals to settle the antitrust investigation have been published unexpectedly. A previous draft of its commitments was leaked to the press, prompting a witch-hunt to identify which of the participants in the market test was responsible for the leak.

ICOMP's legal counsel welcomed Google's decision to publish, and called on the Commission to broaden consultation on them: "This is an important and necessary step that allows third parties and consumer organisations to see the revised package. Google's behavior affects the whole online ecosystem and consumers in particular, so it is vital that all interested parties have the opportunity to review these A proposals. It is even more important that the Commission listens to and takes into account their comments and analysis," wrote David Wood in a blog post.

Ben Hammer of lobby group FairSearch echoed this. "We welcome Google's unilateral decision to publish a non-confidential version of its commitments, but will continue to stress the importance of market testing to demonstrate the effectiveness of these commitments to restore competition to search;" he wrote in an email.

Publication of the commitments is likely to do little more than satisfy people's curiosity this time, however. That's because Almunia has indicated that even the complainants who have already received the document are unlikely to dissuade him from formally accepting Google's commitments. While promising at the Feb. 5 news conference to analyze the complainants' responses, he said: "I don't see that I will change my mind on the proposals."

Contacted via email, Colombani said he welcomed Google's publication of the detailed text of its commitment proposals, and reiterated the Commission's plans to invite only the complainants to comment on them.

Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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