Microsoft-backed lobbying groups blast talk of Google-EU deal

Slam report of impending antitrust pact, grouse that they should have chance to test and comment on third proposal

A pair of organizations with ties to Microsoft today slammed a report that Google and European antitrust regulators were set to strike a deal without running it by them.

Earlier today, Reuters reported that the U.S. search giant and European Union officials are close to wrapping up a deal that would let Google off the hook from a three-year antitrust investigation into charges that it discriminated against rivals in its search results.

The agreement, which Reuters said could be announced in the next few days or weeks, would let Google dodge a formal complaint, a long legal process and the possibility of billions in fines.

Two groups with strong ties to Microsoft -- whose Bing competes with Google's share-leading search service -- took exception to any deal unless they and others had had a chance to test the proposed changes.

"Without actual testing of the likely effects of Google's latest proposal, any assessment of it would just be speculative," said in a statement Wednesday. "The concerns raised by the Commission's investigation are too important to consumers for them to be addressed by a settlement that is not thoroughly vetted."

FairSearch is a 17-company group whose biggest members are Microsoft, Nokia -- whose handset business Microsoft is in the process of acquiring -- and Oracle.

Another Microsoft-backed group, the Initiative for a Competitive Online Marketplace (ICOMP), also weighed in on the Reuters report today.

"While we don't want to respond to speculation," ICOMP said in its own statement, then did exactly that by adding, "Clearly it is necessary that the experts, complainants and concerned third parties get the opportunity to review this third proposal, before any settlement is finalised."

Google's first two proposals, both submitted last year, were rejected by EU regulators after more than 100 companies and organizations, including FairSearch and ICOMP, panned the deals.

By Reuters' account, the EU doesn't plan on rerunning a feedback phase for the third proposal because it already knows what it will hear after the first two testing and commenting periods.

FairSearch objected to that. "Google's first two proposals were rejected by Commissioner Joaquin Almunia as a result of the knowledge gained through market tests, and it is vital that Google's third try also be subject to broad consultation," the group argued.

That group has been especially vocal in its criticism of Google, in particular related to what it sees as anti-competitive practices in European search. But as Nicolas Petit, a professor of competition law at the University of Liege in Belgium said last year, " is seen by many observers here as a Microsoft Trojan Horse."

It's not surprising that Google and the EU are rushing towards a settlement.

A month ago, Petit predicted that the two would come to an agreement, largely because Joaquín Almunia, the former Spanish politician who as Competition Commissioner heads the EU's antitrust agency, desperately wanted to close the case before he leaves office later this year.

In December, Almunia called Google's third proposal "not acceptable," but Petit read that as a bluff, and said Almunia would make every effort to show he had succeeded with his policy of negotiation rather than litigation by getting Google to sign a deal.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is

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