updated 11:28 am EDT, Mon April 15, 2013
Google agrees to label search results, links to competitors
Google has struck a deal with the European Commission, in order to end a two-year antitrust investigation into its search practices, according to a report. The legally binding agreement will see Google clearly labeling any search results that come up for its own products and services, and in some instances, providing links from competing search engines.
Two sources of the New York Times spoke about the currently-undisclosed proposals, which will be put into operation in one month time. In searches that provide results where Google does not earn money, such as weather or news reports, Google must label them as Google-owned properties. In searches where Google sells advertising, such as for reviews of local businesses, it must show links to three or more competitors, and in areas where all search results are paid advertisements, like in Product Search, links must be auctioned, with other companies able to bid on the spots. Google Adsense users will find it easier to add advertisements from other services on their sites in a relaxation of the Google Adsense rules.
Websites will also be able to block content from being put into specific search verticals, but remain in general search. This would allow services like Yelp to choose not to be used by Google in its local business reviews, or to permit its usage but instead to withhold ten percent of content.
The agreement would be legally binding for a five-year period, with compliance being monitored by a third-party, and possible fines as high as a tenth of the company's global annual sales if it strays from its promises. Aside from this, the company has managed to avoid fines altogether, though it appears that the European Commission managed to extract more from the search giant in its own antitrust investigation than the FTC did when it settled in January.
Competitors will be able to respond to the steps taken by Google, and their statements will be taken onboard before a more permanent solution is put in place, according to EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia.
Despite the EC effectively agreeing to the measures, the deal has already come under fire. David Wood, a lawyer for industry group ICOMP, claimed "If what has been proposed is labeling or a modified form of labeling, frankly that's a non-starter," to Bloomberg. "We haven't seen the proposals and the commission hasn't explained them to us. We're in the dark."