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EU Confirms Google's Schmidt Responds to Antitrust Concerns

BRUSSELS--The European Commission Monday confirmed Google Inc. (GOOG) had responded to its antitrust concerns, though it didn't say when it would give its verdict on whether the concessions offered by the search engine giant go far enough. European Union regulators have accused Google of unfairly discriminating against rivals in its search results as well as in its advertising contracts. A spokesman for European Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia confirmed receipt of a letter by Google's Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt but gave no further details. Mr. Almunia had given Google until the start of July to settle an investigation into its business practices after he received 16 separate complaints, including from Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) and online travel broker Expedia Inc. (EXPE). The Commission will now have to determine whether Google's response to the 18-month long investigation addresses competition concerns or whether it will file formal charges that could result in a hefty fine. "We'll need to analyze the letter before we can give any more precise information," an EU official said. A spokesman for Google said: "We have made a proposal to address the four areas the European Commission described as potential concerns. We continue to work cooperatively with the Commission." If Google's concessions don't go far enough, the company risks incurring a maximum fine of 10% of last year's revenues, which would amount to nearly $4 billion. Mr. Almunia in May identified four key concerns, including one worry relating to so-called vertical search engines, or search providers that specialize in such topics as restaurants or news. Mr. Almunia said he was concerned that Google was squeezing out the services provided by other vertical search engines by redirecting users towards its own offerings, such as Google Places, which lists millions of pages for local businesses. At the time, Google said it disagreed with the conclusions, arguing that it faced "tremendous" competitive pressures. The commission launched an investigation into Google in November 2010, after a first round of complaints were filed earlier that year from smaller search rivals. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission started its own probe into Google last year. Write to Vanessa Mock at vanessa.mock@dowjones.com

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