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Google, European Union in Settlement Talks
Google, European Union in Settlement Talks

By Barry Levine
July 25, 2012 2:31PM

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Google has already been the subject of a variety of privacy violation investigations from European governmental agencies, largely concerning the unauthorized collection of personal data via its Street View vehicles, as they traveled streets in Europe to acquire photos and other data for Google Maps. Google is in settlement talks with the European Union.

Google and the European Union are in the midst of settlement talks, which could involve worldwide terms. That's the word from the EU Competition Commissioner, Joaquin Almunia.

On Wednesday, Almunia told news media that the technology giant has expressed a "willingness to really solve our objections" relating to antitrust issues that the EU has been investigating. Currently, the investigation and the discussions are limited to Google's search engine.

Four Concerns

The EU investigation revolves around four concerns about the search engine. These include whether Google favors its own services in the results, such as e-commerce or travel, and whether it is using content without permission, such as travel or restaurant reviews from sites that may be competitors to its services.

A third concern is about agreements Google has with Web sites that use its search engine on their sites, and whether requirements compelling those sites to use Google ads next to the results shut out competing search advertising. The fourth involves restrictions Google might impose on competitor sites' use of Adwords search advertising campaigns.

If Google does settle with the EU, the terms of the settlement could also affect any settlement that results from an antitrust investigation of the company that is under way at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

The effect on a possible FTC settlement could be indirect, in that the EU deal could influence terms with the FTC, or it could be direct. Almunia told news media Wednesday that the concessions the EU is seeking from Google in the settlement talks could be applied worldwide.

Up to 10 Percent

Google has a stack of reasons to seek a settlement, not the least of which are ending at least one stream of EU complaints and avoiding the fate that Microsoft has suffered. The Redmond, Wash.-based tech giant has been fined more than $2 billion by the EU for various antitrust violations.

EU has the authority to issue fines up to 10 percent of a company's annual revenues, which, for Google, could amount to something in the neighborhood of $4 billion.

For its part, Google has responded to Almunia's remarks only to say that it is "continuing to work cooperatively with the European Commission." Reuters news service reported Wednesday that Google has revised its initial settlement proposals so that they would cover all platforms, including computers, tablets, and mobile devices.

The news service noted that a formal complaint from the EU, as a formal charge sheet, could be issued even though talks are under way. In addition, a resolution of these four concerns do not rule out the possibility of other investigations.

Google has already been the subject of a variety of privacy violation investigations from European governmental agencies, largely concerning the unauthorized collection of personal data via its Street View vehicles, as they traveled streets in Europe to acquire photos and other data for Google Maps. The EU said it has also received complaints about Google's open-source operating system, Android.

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