BRUSSELS, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Google and EU regulators are close to settling a three-year antitrust investigation into the company’s suspected anti-competitive behaviour after it offered improved concessions to allay competition concerns, two sources said on Thursday.
A settlement under the European Commission’s antitrust rules means Google will escape a possible fine of as much as $5 billion.
The world’s biggest Internet search engine and the European Commission is close to a deal and a decision is expected in the next few days or in a couple of weeks at the latest, a senior European Union official said.
A second person familiar with the matter confirmed the likely settlement.
The official said Google’s latest proposal, its third after EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia rejected an earlier offer as unacceptable, was “much better”.
This includes commitments from Google on how it treats rivals and how it uses content from other providers in future. The Commission has said that Google may have favoured its own products and services in search results at the expense of competitors.
The U.S. company in its second offer said it would let rivals display their logos and web links in a prominent box, and content providers decide which content it can use. It would also make it easier for advertisers to move their campaigns to rival platforms such as Yahoo! and Microsoft’s Bing.
EU regulators will not seek feedback from the 125 rivals, including Microsoft, and third parties who commented on Google’s previous proposals as they have a clear idea of their thinking after the last two market tests, the official said.
Almunia and Google executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, who were both in Davos for the World Economic Forum last week, are in permanent contact, the official said.
Google’s success in escaping an EU sanction and fines mirrors a similar outcome with U.S. antitrust regulators.
The Federal Trade Commission in January last year ended a 19-month investigation with just a mild reprimand against the company, saying it had not manipulated its web site results and disappointing rivals and critics. (Reporting by Foo Yun Chee)