Google must work harder to avoid European search charges

To satisfy the ongoing European Commission antitrust inquiry in to its search practices, Google has apparently offered to place indicator next to its own websites in search results. reports: “Under the proposal, Google would put its brand on any of its own maps, stock quotes, airline flight details or other pieces of information returned with search results.”

But that likely won’t appease complainants in the case.

Recall that it was sparked when Microsoft’s German price comparer, UK price comparer and French legal search site Ejustice complained that results for their own specialist sites were appearing far lower than for Google’s own equivalent services.

The European Commission’s inquiry is centred on three claims. One is this apparent demotion of rivals, but two others relate to advertising –  that Google prohibits partners from placing certain ads on their sites and that it restricts moving ad campaign data out of Google ad systems to rivals’.

Making clear that the top result – when someone searches for “maps”, for example – is Google’s own Maps will go a little way to satisfying one of the three complaints. But it won’t tick the other two boxes, and won’t the lower prominence given to rivals in search results.

Google will likely need to work harder on its offerings to EC competition commissioner Joaquín Almunia if it is to avoid formal charges toward year’s end.

The issue of which search results come top of engines’ pages is especially prescient because, since the EC inquiry was opened, search engines have begun to answer more users’ queries by supplying information on pages themselves, not just acting as signposts to third-party web pages.