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Companies, Politicians Pressure EC To Rework Google Antitrust Deal

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A group of European digital organisations and politicians have said the EC’s antitrust agreement with Google does not go far enough

The Open Internet Project (OIP), backed by 400 European digital organisations, has filed a complaint with the European Commission asking that the antitrust case against Google‘s search practices be reopened, and that stronger controls imposed on the company.

The EC announced a deal with Google in February and hopes to bring the three-year investigation to a close after the summer break. However, the OIP said the deal, as it stands, does not go far enough. Google, which has a roughly 90 percent market share in Europe, was accused of favouring its own services in search results.

Joaquin Almunia EC Competition Commissioner

‘Manipulative’

“European consumers and digital entrepreneurs demand a ban of Google’s manipulative favouring of own services and content,” the OIP said in a statement.

The group said the agreement, as it stands, would consolidate Google’s dominance and make matters worse.

“The European Commission… is planning to give in to the giant by concluding a settlement largely behind closed doors that would in principle legalise Google’s self-preference,” the OIP stated. It called for new measures including a more thorough analysis of Google’s anti-competitive practices, a review mechanism for algorithm changes and obligations for Google to supply or license its data.

The group’s backers include German digital publisher Axel Springer, CCM Benchmark, France’s Lagardère, tour operators and consumer associations. The OIP was joined at a Thursday event in Paris by politicians including France’s Socialist economy minister Arnaud Montebourg and German Interior Ministry official Ole Schröder

Montebourg said France would push to strengthen the penalties against Google. “What’s at stake is our sovereignty itself,” he told The Wall Street Journal.

Criticism

The deal has received an unusual degree of criticism from some EC members, including Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger and Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier; their criticisms, in closed-door meetings, were leaked in the press, something criticised as “irresponsible” by antitrust chief Joaquín Almunia (pictured) in a Thursday press conference ahead of the OIP’s event.

At the conference, Almunia reportedly said the deal would “swiftly allay competition concerns”. The deal requires Google to make a number of changes to the way its search engine operates, giving more visibility to links that lead to specialised search services run by competitors, such as those for shopping or restaurants.

The OIP conceded it would be unusual for an antitrust agreement to be blocked after having progressed so far, but the group said the case is itself unusual.

Google executive Kent Walker told Agence France-Presse that the investigation has been “very long and very thorough”.

Google is also facing pressure in the EU over the “right to be forgotten”, in which a court has told it to delete links to information about individuals if they request it to do so.

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