After more than three years of investigations and negotiations, Google and the European Union anti-trust authorities have finally settled the case in which the company was accused of abusing its dominant position in search.
The tl;dr version of the dispute was that Google search results were giving undue prominence to its own services – such as Google News and Google Shopping – and freezing out rivals. Google was eventually given a deadline of 31st January last year to submit proposals on how it would resolve the problem …
Google submitted proposed concessions, which the EU Commission circulated for feedback. Rival services were unhappy with these, and the EU rejected them. Google made fresh proposals, and the EU has now formally accepted them.
The most important part of the settlement is that Google agrees to more clearly label and separate links to its own services from organic search results. How far it has to go depends on the extent to which Google makes money from the links. The Financial Times summarised the deal.
1) In areas such as Google News or Weather, which do not directly generate revenue, only the labelling and separation requirements apply.
2) For its specialist restaurant search results — which links to a landing page that generates ad revenue for Google — clearer labelling and separation is needed. And Google must carry a minimum of three links to alternatives search engines — such as Yelp or Tripavisor. These alternative sites are selected through a process more similar to general search.
3) Paid for services such as Google shopping are treated differently. This is treated more like advertising space, because retailers pay to appear in the specialist search results. This must be labelled, separated from general search and include links. But the links are sold-off by auction, rather than generated by the search algorithm.
Another issue was copyright claims, where websites objected to Google quoting things like restaurant reviews on its own sites. Here Google has agreed to offer opt-outs without those sites being penalised in search results. Deals were also reached on concerns around difficulties Google ad customers experienced in switching to rival networks.
The deal lasts for three years, and affects only search results returned in Europe.