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EU set to make Google improve its search proposal

Based on public feedback, European regulators will likely ask Google to revise a search proposal it submitted to them last month.

"I cannot anticipate this formally, but almost 100 per cent - we will ask Google 'you should improve your proposals,'" European Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said during a Tuesday meeting of the European Parliament's Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs.

Last month, in an effort to avoid an antitrust crackdown across Europe, Google offered up some solutions to appease regulators there - including the addition of links to rival services in its search results.

The European Commission then called on the public to submit comments about the proposal. That comment period was scheduled to conclude on Monday, "but at the request of some participants we have decided to prolong it by one month," Almunia said. "So at the end of June we will receive the answers."

Once regulators have received those responses, the EU will "probably" ask Google to revise its proposal, Almunia added.

"If at the end of these exchanges Google send us the proposals that we consider can solve the concerns, we can [transform] these proposals ... into legally binding commitments," Almunia said. "If these negotiations do not have a positive conclusion we will need to adopt a statement of objections and go to the end of the procedure under Article 7 of the antitrust regulation."

According to the EU, a statement of objections is a formal step in Commission investigations. The Commission informs the parties concerned in writing of the objections raised against them and the parties can reply in writing and request an oral hearing to present comments.

Almunia, however, said he hopes it will not come to that. "I hope we will succeed in adopting a positive outcome through Article 9," he said. "This will mean that by the end of the year we will have solved the problems we have with the Google search activity."

"Our proposal to the European Commission clearly addresses their four areas of concern," Google spokesman Al Verney said in a statement. "We continue to work with the Commission to settle this case."

The EU probe dates back to November 2010, when the commission opened an antitrust investigation into Google over allegations that the company had abused its dominant position in online search. Google issued its response in July 2012 and has long denied any wrongdoing.

In March, however, the commission formally told Google that it might violate EU antitrust rules in four specific ways: prioritising its own services in search results; using third-party content on its own services without permission; as well as restrictive rules for AdWords' customers and their ability to transfer campaigns to rival services.

As a result, Google served up some ideas for how it might ease those concerns and avoid antitrust action, from clearly labelling promoted links to Google-owned content to displaying links to three rival, specialised search services.

The US conducted a similar investigation, but in January, the Federal Trade Commission did not find that Google unfairly manipulated its search results to highlight its own products and demote competing firms.