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Google moves to end antitrust probe

The world’s number one search engine attempts to end a two-year antitrust probe without a fine.

The world’s number one search engine Google attempts to end a two-year antitrust probe without a fine.

BRUSSELS - Google has formally submitted a package of concessions to European Union competition regulators in a strong signal that the world's No. 1 search engine may be able to settle a two-year antitrust investigation without a fine.

Google first offered proposals at the end of January following a spate of complaints from rivals such as Microsoft that triggered the European Commission's investigation in November 2010.

But the company, which has a market share of over 80 percent in Europe's Internet search market according to research firm comScore, has now made a formal offer after fine-tuning its proposals following discussions with the EU antitrust authority.

"In the last few weeks, the Commission completed its preliminary assessment formally setting out its concerns. On this basis, Google then made a formal submission of commitments to the Commission," said Antoine Colombani, the Commission's spokesman on competition policy.

"We are now preparing the launch of a market test to seek feedback from market players, including complainants, on these commitment proposals," he said, declining to provide details.

EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia, speaking in Washington, said on Thursday that whatever agreement is reached will be legally binding.

"I am trying to reach a decision ... that will include legally binding commitments based on the Google proposal," he told reporters.

The US Federal Trade Commission wrapped up a similar probe in early January by concluding that Google did not manipulate search results.

It also extracted pledges that Google would end the practice of "scraping" content from other websites for its products and allow advertisers to export analytical data, but did not take formal, legal action to ensure those pledges would be met - a decision that angered Google's critics.

Almunia brushed aside questions about whether the FTC's conclusions would make it more difficult for his investigators to make a different finding. "This is not creating any difficulty for our investigation," he said.

He also said that there had been no decision made on whether to investigate complaints by Google critics such as Microsoft that Google was guilty of predatory pricing in offering its Android mobile operating system for free.

"We have not yet decided if a formal investigation will be launched or not," Almunia said.