Europe prods Google to accept antitrust deal, avoid Microsoft-style ordeal

The European Commission today announced it had found four possible “abuses of dominance” by Google, and suggested the search giant propose a package of “remedies” in coming weeks.

Europe launched a massive antitrust investigation into Google in November 2010 to look into the company’s business practices, including whether it was gaming search results to favor its own products.

Monday’s announcement by a Commission official cited “fast-moving markets” to explain that it was important to achieve a “quick resolution” to the investigation. The official also said he had sent a letter to Google chairman Eric Schmidt that suggested the company propose remedies in the next few weeks.

The Commission’s letter was written no doubt with another American company, Microsoft, in the back of its mind. In the last decade, European courts and regulators Microsoft fined hundreds of millions of euros over the course of several multiyear antitrust investigations.

Today’s announcement thus appears to be a shot across Google’s bow to encourage it to settle rather than fight antitrust charges in court.

The four accusations cited by the Commission today relate to Google’s search listings and AdWords business. The underlying accusations against the company are being driven by Microsoft and by smaller companies that accuse Google of crushing competition.

While a settlement with the Commission might spare Google the ordeal of a trial, the company would still be the subject of ongoing investigations into other parts of its business. Google would also continue to face other regulatory headaches from national governments in France as well as a series of private lawsuits over its AdWords technology and advertising contracts.

Google has so far denied that its practices are anticompetitive and is likely reluctant to submit to measures that would force it to share more of its business practices with regulators and rivals.

The full text of today’s statement by Joaquín Almunia, Vice President of the European Commission responsible for Competition Policy, can be found here.

(Image by Maxx-Studios)

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