Google has been publicly warned by EC Competition Comissioner Joaquin Almunia that it must do more to answer claims from rivals that it is abusing its dominant position in the search market.
Since 2010, the Competition Commission has been looking into whether Google's search engine favours the firm's own assets, such as YouTube, ranking them higher on the search results page, while actively hindering those of rivals, including Microsoft – one of the plaintiffs. It is also investigating whether Google's advertising service breaks the rules by blocking the ads of rival firms, and whether the search giant has been copying rivals' travel and restaurant reviews.
A so-called Article 9 settlement might require Google to alter the way it does business, but without formally having to accept wrongdoing or pay a fine.
Almunia's public warning comes as observers hint there has been little progress in the talks and that few concessions have been offered by Google, especially over the ranking of search results.
"We are not there yet, and it must be clear that, in the absence of satisfactory proposals in the short term, I will be obliged to continue with our formal proceedings," Almunia said yesterday in New York.
If the case does go to court there could be serious repercussions for Google. Should the courts find the firm guilty of breaching EU antitrust rules it could be fined up to 10 per cent of its worldwide revenues – or more than £2bn. In addition, its whole search-based business model would be affected by legal restrictions on the way it could use its search results.
In a separate issue, EU regulators also are examining complaints about Google's Android operating system, and Almunia is personally involved in investigating patent disputes between Google's Motorola Mobility (MMI), Samsung and Huawei.
"I expect the leading companies in the sector not to misuse their intellectual property rights. It is high time they look for negotiated solutions – I am tempted to call them peace talks – that would put an end to the patent wars," he said.