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Google agrees to alter search; EU probe to end

NEW YORK — Google has for the first time agreed to legally binding changes to its search results following an antitrust investigation by European regulators into whether it abuses its dominance of online search.

After a two-year inquiry, the European Commission has accepted Google’s proposed settlement, according to two people briefed on the agreement who spoke anonymously because the proposal is not yet public.

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Google will not have to change the algorithm that produces its search results, the people said. Under the proposal, Google agrees to clearly label search results from its own properties, like Google Plus Local or Google News, and in some cases to show links from rival search engines.

The biggest change has to do with results related to topics like shopping and flights, a field known as vertical search. Google has been pushing into these areas, prompting complaints from competitors who worry that Google will favor its own results over theirs.

If the proposal is approved, the European Commission will have succeeded in demanding far more stringent concessions from Google than did US regulators, who in January closed a two-year antitrust investigation after finding that Google did not violate antitrust statutes.

Europe opened its antitrust inquiry in 2010. It has focused on whether Google unfairly favored links to its own services, whether it disadvantaged competitors by including material from other websites in search results, and whether its advertising business complied with European antitrust law.

If it abides by the agreement, Google will avoid fines and a formal finding of wrongdoing. Google will also escape the lengthy and expensive antitrust battles that Microsoft faced in Europe over its media player and server software.

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