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Google agrees to change search results display in EU

Google has agreed to change how it displays search results in Europe -- including a better labeling of its promoted content and displaying links to competitors -- to appease concerns it might be abusing its dominant market position, the European Union's antitrust body said Thursday.

Google's search engine, the world's most influential gateway to online information and commerce, enjoys a near-monopoly in Europe. The EU Commission, which acts as the 27-nation bloc's antitrust authority, has since 2010 been investigating whether the company is unfairly stifling competition. It pointed out several areas of concern that Google is now trying to address through the proposed concessions.

Google has offered to more clearly label search results stemming from its own services such as Google News, Google Maps or its shopping and flight search functions. That would allow users to distinguish between natural search results and others promoted by Google. It also agreed to display some search results from its competitors and links to their services, the EU Commission said.

The Commission has often taken a harder line with U.S. tech companies than its American counterparts, the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department. Google, which is based in Mountain View, Calif., was able to settle a similar antitrust complaint on its search business with the FTC in January without making any major concessions on how it runs its search engine.

The EU Commission is proposing a market test of the concessions for a month. That would give competitors the chance to say whether they deem them sufficient.

"The objective of this process is to try to see if we can achieve a settled outcome in this antitrust investigation," said commission spokesman Antoine Colombani.

A group of 17 companies competing with Google -- including tech giants and Internet companies such as Microsoft, Nokia, Expedia and TripAdvisor -- vowed to carefully study the concessions proposed by Google.

"The most important remedy to Google's abuse of dominance is to require the search monopoly . . . to subject its own products and services to the same policy it uses to rank and display all other websites," said the group, collectively called FairSearch.

Once the Commission accepts the concessions -- revised or not -- they become legally binding for the company for the next five years. If the deal is accepted, Google would avoid a fine and a finding of wrongdoing.

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