EU-Google Antitrust Deal May Be Collapsing

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Since the first Google antitrust settlement proposal was announced in 2013 the company’s rivals and critics have complained loudly that it doesn’t go far enough to remedy what they see as Google’s unjustified “diversion” of their traffic to Google’s own “vertical” properties.

They’ve lobbied regulators and produced white papers and PR campaigns aimed at undoing the settlement. They may be succeeding.

We’re now on the third revised settlement between Google and European Competition Czar Joaquín Almunia. Almunia said the third settlement proposal, featuring prominent “rival links” at the top of search results, was essentially a done deal. It was once argued to me that Almunia has the authority and discretion to basically finalize a settlement himself.

If that’s accurate it doesn’t appear to be happening.

In addition to Google competitors such as Microsoft and Yelp, members of the European Parliament have called for tougher settlement terms. Almunia wants to get the deal done before he leaves office in November. But he’s now being pressured to make significant new changes or leave the matter to his successor, according to the NY Times.

His successor is almost certain to be a more strident critic of Google, the same article speculates.

The “political” pressure Almunia now faces from multiple, highly vocal anti-Google constituencies may result in him leaving office before finalizing the settlement. That would represent a disappointment and professional failure for Almunia and potentially expose Google to many months of new negotiations and uncertainty. There are also fines that could be imposed in a worst-case scenario.

Even if this settlement is finalized, Google faces an almost-certain formal investigation of its Android business in Europe — among other investigations that have been hinted at.

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