In November 2010, the Commission opened an investigation into Google’s business practices following 18 formal complaints.
In March 2013, the European Commission formally announced its preliminary conclusion that four types of business practice by Google might infringe EU antitrust rules as they might constitute abuses of a dominant position according to Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
Those four types of business practice are the following:
- the prominent display, within Google’s web search results, of Google’s own specialized web search services as compared with competing specialized web search services;
- the use by Google without consent of original content from third party websites in its own specialized web search services;
- agreements that oblige third party websites, the publishers, to obtain all or most of their online search advertisements from Google; and
- contractual restrictions on the transferability of online search advertising campaigns to rival search advertising platforms and the management of those campaigns across Google’s Adwords and rival search advertising platforms.
According to the Commission, those practices may harm consumers by reducing choice and stifling innovation in the fields of specialized search services and online search advertising.
Following this European preliminary assessment, Google proposed on 3 April 2013 commitments to address the Commission’s concerns. Those commitments were made public by the Commission in order to gather feedback from stakeholders.
The result of this consultation was that the commitments were not sufficient in order to address the antitrust concerns. In October 2013, Google offered changes to its commitments that were submitted to a public consultation. They were still not sufficient to fully address the Commission’s concerns.
Finally, new commitments were offered recently that were considered by the Commission as significant concessions:
- Google guarantees that whenever it promotes its own specialized search services on its webpage, the services of three rivals, selected through an objective method, will also be displayed in a clearly visible way for users;
- Google will give content providers an extensive opt-out from the use of its content in Google’s specialized search services if they wish, without being penalized by Google;
- Google will remove exclusivity requirements in its agreements with publishers for the provision of search advertisements; and
- Google will remove restrictions on the ability for search advertising campaigns to be run on competing search advertising platforms.
Google’s compliance with these commitments will be supervised by an independent monitoring trustee. They will apply in the European Economic Area and will remain in force for five years.
The Commission announced on 5 February 2014 that it was satisfied with Google’s commitments and that it will submit them to the complainants before adopting a final decision on whether to make those commitments legally binding on Google.