Google rivals asked if concessions go far enough in antitrust inquiry

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PARIS (Reuters) – European regulators have asked Google’s rivals whether the Internet search engine’s revised proposals to settle an antitrust case will boost their bargaining power in commercial negotiations, a European Commission document showed.

Google has promised to post more prominent links to rival shopping, travel and restaurant sites when a user searches for content, as well as reduce the minimum price advertisers can offer to pay for paid ads.

Google is seeking to end a three-year old investigation by the European Commission and avert a fine that could be as high as $5 billion for blocking competitors in search results.

Google’s first proposal in April was rejected by its competitors, including Microsoft and British price comparison site Foundem.

The EU antitrust authority said last month that it would seek feedback from 125 rivals and third parties to Google’s latest offer.

The Commission has asked rivals whether the new links which Google has planned ensure sufficient visibility and would prompt users to click on them more frequently, a four-page questionnaire sent to rivals showed.

Competitors were also quizzed on the mechanism Google will use to rank high and low-quality links to outside content. Such technical issues are key to where online retailers or travel websites show up in Google search results, and can greatly affect traffic to their services.

On Google’s proposal to give rivals more control over what it can copy from their websites, in a practice known as scraping, the Commission asked if the companies think the opt-out mechanism was sufficient.

“In your opinion, will the opt out possibilities…. improve your bargaining power in discussions with Google?” the document reads.

A spokesman for Google did not return a request for comment. The Commission’s spokesman for competition policy, Antoine Colombani, declined to comment.

(Reporting by Leila Abboud and Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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