Internet Wars: Google and EU Work to Reach Agreement Three Years in the Making

Photo: Tschillinger for Wikimedia Commons.

Image: Tschillinger for Wikimedia Commons.

On Wednesday, February 5, the European Commission announced it had accepted terms proposed by Google to remedy problems concerning the marketing of online search results. Google was accused of overstepping boundaries, yet the talks between the EU and Google are said to have opened the way for an amicable solution. The 14 plaintiffs can be sure of their position before the Commission even makes a final decision, expected to be reached within the month, to decide if it will make legally binding commitments to Google.

Google will be blamed mostly with highlighting its own services on the search engine to a greater extent that those of competitors. Among the companies taking issue with Google’s practices are Kelkoo, a price comparison website, and travel sites such as Expedia and Lastminute.com. The problems arose when it became clear that Google was pushing its own services more than those of other sites. People use Google as a search engine to explore their options, and the companies insist consumers should get the broader picture in their search results, not just what Google pushes.

In this last offer, the American giant had agreed to promise that when posting information from its own searched services, it would offer competitors’ options as well. For example, when a search for a restaurant, hotel, or commodity would show results on Google, results from three competitor search engines would also be shown. The competitors’ services would have to be clearly visible for users and would have to be comparable to that which Google was showing; Google could not show a five-star hotel option next to a competitor’s motel option, for example.

There are plans for a third-party organization to oversee the searches and ensure that Google was respecting the agreement. It would also be mandatory for Google to allow suppliers of commodities an “opt-out” option, in case they did not want their services to be found on specialty search engines. This would be done without any penalty to the supply company.

The final part of the agreement states that Google could not engage in imposing contracts of exclusivity in its publicity endeavors, allowing all entities a fair shot at a searcher’s business.

If Google agrees to the legal contracts put forth by the EU, it will avoid financial sanctions that could have amounted to several millions euros. The agreement will also finally bring a long investigation to rest, which began back in November 2010. In Brussels there have been several bouts of protest against the Internet giant, with two large instances in 2013. The protesters claimed that the commitments proposed by Google at the time were inadequate and would only serve to strengthen its own advantage.

“We are going to make important changes in the way Google operates in Europe,” stated a Google spokesman, Kent Walker. “We are working with the European Commission to resolve these problems that have arisen, and are impatient to resolve these affairs.” Europe must now wait to see if the agreements will be met and if the American mega-company will be reined in enough to allow European companies a chance.

 

 

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  1. […] Internet wars: Google and EU work to reach agreement three years in the making. On Wednesday, Feb. 5, the European Commission announced it had accepted terms proposed by Google to remedy problems concerning the marketing of online search results. Google was accused of overstepping boundaries, yet the talks between the EU and Google are said to have opened the way for an amicable solution. The 14 plaintiffs can be sure of their position before the Commission even makes a final decision, expected to be reached within the month, to decide if it will make legally binding commitments to Google. […]

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