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EU antitrust body seeks views on Google concessions

A Google sign is seen at a Best Buy electronics store in this photo illustration in Encinitas, California April 11, 2013. Google will report
A Google sign is seen at a Best Buy electronics store in this photo illustration in Encinitas, California April 11, 2013. Google will report

By Foo Yun Chee

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Google's rivals will have the chance to comment on concessions proposed by the U.S. internet company to end an EU antitrust investigation, in a move that could force the company to improve its offer or even scupper a deal.

Complainants including Microsoft, online travel sites TripAdvisor and Expedia, newspaper publishers, mapping sites and price comparison sites, will have around a month to respond, the EU competition authority said on Thursday.

Several of them including lobby group ICOMP, which counts Microsoft and four other complainants among its members, said they were likely to press for more concessions.

Google, the world's most popular search engine, submitted its proposals earlier this month after the European Commission outlined four areas of concern about its business practices, saying these could restrict consumer choice and competition.

EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said at the time he would try to reach a decision, including legally-binding commitments, based on Google's proposals. But this could change, depending on the arguments made by Google's rivals.

Without a deal, Google could face a hefty fine.

The EU competition authority said on Thursday Google's proposals included marking out its services from rival products in Internet search results and providing links to at least three competing search engines.

Specialized websites will be able to opt out from the use of all their content in Google's own specialized search services and will also be able to mark out specific categories of information to prevent its use by Google.

Publishers will be allowed to control the display of their content in Google news and will no longer be obliged to use online search adverts exclusively from Google.

The search giant will also scrap restrictions preventing advertisers from transferring their search advertising campaigns to rival platforms.

If approved, Google's undertakings would be binding for five years in Europe and monitored by a trustee.

GOOGLE FOES WANT MORE

While Google's proposals are more far-reaching than those agreed with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in January in a similar investigation, they are still insufficient, Google's opponents said.

"It is clear that mere labeling is not any kind of solution to the competition concerns that have been identified. Google should implement the same ranking policy to all websites," ICOMP said in a statement.

British price comparison site Foundem was equally critical.

"The early signs are that Google's proposals will fall far short of this minimum requirement (to treat both its and rival services equally)," Foundem Chief Executive Shivaun Raff said.

"Instead of promising to end its abusive practices, Google's proposal seems to offer a half-hearted attempt to dilute their anti-competitive effects, by labeling Google's own services and throwing in some token links to competitors' services alongside them," she said.

Lobbying group FairSearch, whose members include Expedia, TripAdvisor, French comparison site Twenga, urged EU regulators to give them more than a month to assess Google's proposals.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Rex Merrifield and Mark Potter)

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