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Google offers to label promoted links on search page to settle EU antitrust probe

Google is testing a new program that allows

Google is testing a new program that allows its search engine to bring information drawn from its users' Gmail accounts to a main search page. Photo Credit: Getty Images, 2011

Google Inc. offered to change the way it operates its search page for a period of five years in a bid to settle an almost three-year antitrust investigation by the European Union.

The owner of the world's largest search engine offered to label promoted links to Google-branded search services to distinguish them from other web search results as part of a series of commitments to allay four sets of antitrust concerns, the European Commission said in an e-mailed statement today.

Competitors, users and companies in the same market will have the opportunity to give feedback to the commission on Google's planned changes. This so-called market test will last one month.

The commission has said that Google is dominant in web search and search advertising in Europe and that the Mountain View, Calif.-based company may be hampering competition. Google's remedies seek to address EU concerns, including allegations that the company promotes its own specialist search services, copies rivals' travel and restaurant reviews, and has agreements with websites and software developers that stifle competition in the advertising industry.

Google offered to "clearly separate" promoted links from other web search results by "clear graphical features," said the commission. It would also display links to "three rival specialized search services close to its own services."

Rivals, such as Microsoft Corp., want the EU to extract changes after the U.S. closed a 20-month investigation into whether Google unfairly promoted its own services in search results. The Federal Trade Commission in January concluded that Google was motivated more by wanting to improve its search results than by a desire to stifle competition.

An EU settlement avoids any decision on whether a company broke antitrust rules. Companies can be fined as much as 10 percent of their annual revenue if they break the terms of a legally binding settlement.

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