The European Union's competition commissioner says he's open to settling his antitrust investigation into Google's search practices.
Joaquin Almunia held a news briefing today, saying that his office would be willing to come to a "quick resolution on the competition issues" that Google is facing, so competition can be restored across the continent.
"Google has repeatedly expressed to me its willingness to discuss any concerns that the Commission might have without having to engage in adversarial proceedings," Almunia said. "This is why today I'm giving Google an opportunity to offer remedies to address concerns that we have identified."
Almunia announced four "concerns" related to "abuses of dominance." The competition commissioner contends that Google displays its own services in a different manner than links to competing offerings. In addition, he argues that "Google may be copying original material from the Web sites such as user reviews and using that material on its own sites without their prior authorization." The other two complaints relate to Google's handling of search advertisements, which Almunia says, forces companies into an exclusive agreement with the search firm.
"We've only just started to look through the Commission's arguments," a Google spokesperson told CNET in an e-mailed statement responding to Almunia's comments. "We disagree with the conclusions but we're happy to discuss any concerns they might have. Competition on the Web has increased dramatically in the last two years since the Commission started looking at this and the competitive pressures Google faces are tremendous. Innovation online has never been greater."
Almunia's comments are notable for being the first time he has given any indication that he'd be willing to come to any sort of agreement regarding his organization's investigation into Google. That investigation, which was launched back in November 2010, aimed at determining whether Google has used its search dominance to limit competition in the marketplace -- a charge brought against it by more than a dozen competitors.
Earlier this month, Almunia said that his office's investigation had not yet come to a close, and he didn't provide any indication of whether it would file a formal complaint against Google. Almunia said today that he'd like some proposals from Google "in a matter of weeks." It's not clear what would happen if that deadline passes without his office receiving anything from Google that it would be willing to accept.
Whether Google's competitors would be happy with any agreement, however, remains to be seen. The company's chief antagonist, Microsoft, has been especially outspoken about its concerns with Google, going so far as saying last year that its search practices have hurt European consumers.
"How does it do this?" Microsoft senior vice president and general counsel, Brad Smith, asked at the time. "Google has built its business on indexing and displaying snippets of other organizations' Web content. It understands as well as anyone that search engines depend upon the openness of the Web in order to function properly, and it's quick to complain when others undermine this.
"Unfortunately, Google has engaged in a broadening pattern of walling off access to content and data that competitors need to provide search results to consumers and to attract advertisers," Smith concluded.
For its part, Google has consistently said that it will cooperate with investigators.
Update 5:49 a.m. PT to include details on the complaints.