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Google has agreed to modify how it displays competitor ads within search results, ensuring equal visibility with ads for their own products and services. This allows Google to avoid a process that could have resulted in significant fines by the European Union for as much as 10% of their 2012 revenue, or about $5 billion.

The European Commission opened an antitrust probe into Google’s internet search practices back in 2010. More than a dozen competitors including Microsoft and Yahoo lodged complaints that their paid advertisements were being buried within search results, while Google’s own ads displayed prominently on the page.

Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia¬†has agreed to accept Google’s concessions, agreeing to forego fines as long as Google treats competitor ads equally to their own on the search page. Google will need to stick to this deal for the next five years.

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Google may steer clear of EU fines, but German online mapping service, Euro-Cities, said it will take its dispute to the German courts. Other complainants are upset that Almunia said he will accept Google’s offer without consulting them.

Some consider this another victory for the EU against a major global technology company. Over the last decade, Microsoft has received various fines and similar service change requirements as this new Google agreement. In 2009, Microsoft agreed to give users the choice of default web browser to install within the Microsoft Windows operating system. The EU concluded that Microsoft’s use of their own web browser, Internet Explorer, as the default browser within their Microsoft Windows operating system was anti-competitive to other browser companies.

Do you think giving better visibility to competitors like Bing will make much of a difference?


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