Publishers urge rejection of Google settlement

Jose Castro – Fourth Estate Cooperative Contributor

Brussels, Belgium (4E) – Last Thursday, a group of European press publishing groups had criticized the proposals provided by Google regarding their antitrust settlement suit. The proposals were deemed ‘wholly insufficient to restore competition, innovation and consumer choice to the digital market’, according to the Federation of German Newspaper Publishers President Helmut Heinen.

Heinen added, the deal would ‘effectively legalise Google’s abusive self preference.’ Furthermore, he stated, “As a respected competition authority, the Commission must act decisively now and reject those commitments. It is time to enforce EU competition law properly putting an end to this anti-competitive conduct that is holding back the digital market in Europe to the detriment of consumers and businesses alike.”

The comments were made after Google was slapped with an antitrust suit in the European Union four years ago. It has been three years since European Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia had first started to review if Google eases out and pushes away rival services in the online search market.

Now, after four years, a preliminary agreement has been reached between the office he represents and the most popular search engine in the world. As a measure of such agreement being forged, Almunia has advised the 18 complainants that he intends ‘to rebuff their grievances’. He is also examining their responses.

Many of the complainants fear that this move by Almunia would essentially give Google a ‘carte blanche’ to continue the development of means to lead users to Google’s own services instead of a level playing field for all.

One of the major critics is Microsoft, who made their sentiments known through their Director of Competition Law Jean-Yves Art. Art said they were specifically concerned with the contractual curbs Google requires upon their advertisers, making it more difficult for them to switch to other online platforms, such as Bing.

He made the remarks during a press conference hosted by Google complainants. He added, “The proposals don’t cure or eliminate all restrictions that we and rivals see. There are still restrictions preventing them from providing interoperability.”

Another complainant, British website Foundem, aired their issues through its head Shivaun Raff. Raff said the Commission did not have evidence that Google’s pending offer to let three of their rivals display their logos as well as web links in a box. Also included in the offer is allowing content providers to determine what materials can Google utilize for its own services, in order to resolve the competition issues.

Raff declared, “(Google’s proposals) are not a remedy. They are a catastrophic escalation of the abuse.”

The consortium of Spanish newspapers, through the Consejero Delegado of Vocento Luis Enriquez also weighed in on the issue, “This is a landmark case for the future evolution of the digital single market in Europe. I trust that the commission will demand that Google provides equal search and display criteria for all websites and at the same time puts an end to the misuse of publishers’ content.”

As for Google, its spokesperson Al Verney said, “We’ve cooperated fully with the European Commission’s investigation over the last four years. Our proposal addresses all of the EC’s concerns and greatly increases the visibility of rival services.”

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