Google chairman Eric Schmidt is trying to reach a settlement with European regulators on charges that Google has abused its dominant position in the search market, Bloomberg reports.Schmidt sent a letter to European Union antitrust chief Joaquin Almunia proposing fixes to four problem areas that Almunia identified in a statement released in May:
- How Google displays links to its own specialised search services, like local restaurant listings or product searches.
- How Google copies content from other sites and displays it in its search results.
- How Google requires exclusivity in delivering ads on third-party websites.
- How Google restricts developers from creating tools to port AdWords ads to other advertising platforms.
Google didn’t offer details on the settlement proposals. But we bet the first two are far trickier for Google to give ground on than the restrictions it places on its advertising tools.
That’s because Google has built its search business on two things: examining content on websites and displaying portions of that content in search results, according to algorithms it’s developed.
In court cases and dealings with regulators, Google has pretty aggressively defended its right to display snippets from other websites. In the United States, Google has been able to rely on a fair-use exemption under copyright law. But now that it’s a global company, Google has to contend with a wide variety of regulatory regimes. So Google may have to give ground there.
Google has also complicated its position by aggressively highlighting its own services over content crawled from the Web. That makes the argument that Google is some kind of pure, fair arbiter of the best links on the Web much harder to sustain.
What Google wants to avoid here are regulatory restrictions handed down by an EU judge that would tie its hands in customising search results.
So Schmidt’s letter—which we haven’t seen yet—must contain some fancy footwork.