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Google makes 2d offer to settle EU antitrust case

Particulars of proposed deal await analysis

BRUSSELS — Google made a second attempt last week to settle a three-year-old antitrust case with the European Union, the company said Monday, but neither side released details of the offer and rivals continued to call for the US technology giant to cede more control of its Internet search and advertising business.

The latest offer by Google was confirmed in Italy on Sunday by Joaquín Almunia, the EU’s competition commissioner. Almunia has been seeking a settlement with the company since the early stages of the case, which formally began in 2010.

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The case revolves around claims that Google has abused its dominance in the Internet search and advertising field by, among other things, favoring its own products and services in search results. Google powers 90 percent of searches in many European markets; its US share is closer to 70 percent.

“Once we have completed our analysis, once we will check that these new proposals are able to eliminate our concerns, we will tell Google what to do,” Almunia, referring to the offer, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television.

Almunia is under mounting pressure from Google’s rivals seeking to prolong its legal entanglements in Europe and toughen the terms of any deal.

In July, he was forced to reject a preliminary settlement struck with Google after industry groups complained that aspects of the deal could strengthen, rather than loosen, Google’s hold in Europe.

That proposal, the result of Google’s first offer of a settlement, would not have required the company to change the algorithm, or formula, that produces its search results. But it would have been the first time that Google had agreed to legally binding changes to its search results, and it went much further than the minor concessions it made to settle a case before the US Federal Trade Commission.

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The latest proposal by Google addressed Almunia’s “areas of concern,” Al Verney, a spokesman for the company in Europe, said Monday. “We continue to work with the commission to settle this case,” said Verney, who declined to describe the contents of the offer.

Almunia said over the weekend that he would prefer a swiftly negotiated settlement because that would be a better way of regulating the fast-moving technology sector. But he said he could still issue formal charges against Google if a deal failed to materialize.

With the case still open, Google faces a serious challenge in Europe, where it risks far-reaching orders demanding it change its business practices and potentially a fine of up to $5 billion.

There is no formal timeline in European antitrust cases, so negotiations could continue for some time.

Leaders of industry groups said that the latest offer by Google should be carefully tested in the marketplace to assure the remedies addressed complaints that the company favored its own products in search results.

“We must hope after so much prevarication that this time Google’s proposals represent a genuine attempt to address the concerns identified,” said David Wood, the legal counsel for Icomp, an industry group backed by Microsoft and a number of other companies. The previous proposals were, he said, “manifestly defective.”

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