Consumer Watchdog Objects To EU Commissioners About Proposed Google Settlement

SANTA MONICA, Calif., Feb. 10, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Consumer Watchdog, a U.S. public interest group, has objected to the European Union's College of Commissioners over the antitrust settlement deal with Google that was announced last week by the Commissioner for Competition, Vice President Joaquin Almunia, the group said today.

In separate letters addressed to the Commission's Secretary-General and 27 of the 28 commissioners, John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project director wrote:

"In addition to our deep concerns about the procedure that is being followed in apparent contradiction to Commission policy, we have strong objections to this third proposal from the Internet giant on its merits in so far as we have been able to determine the details of what Google is offering.  At a minimum any remedy must insist that Google use an objective, nondiscriminatory mechanism to rank and display all search results – including links to Google products."

Read a copy of Consumer Watchdog's letter here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/ltrbarroso020614.pdf

"We had been impressed with the strong position the Commission had taken in your investigation, unlike regulatory authorities in the United States," wrote Simpson. "We cannot understand what prompted this recent change in attitude."

Any negotiated so-called Article 9 settlement with Google reached before a formal Statement of Objections is filed, must be approved by the College of Commissioners.

"While Vice President Almunia has the competition portfolio, Consumer Watchdog believes this investigation is a matter for the whole Commission and that all members of the College are fully entitled to demand satisfactory remedies to Google's ongoing abuse of its market dominance," wrote Simpson. "If Google does not provide a commitment to end search manipulation and to practice search neutrality, then the Commission must file a Statement of Objections and commence antitrust proceedings."

Consumer Watchdog noted that while DG Comp's procedure manual provides that no market test is required for "smaller ('technical') changes to the commitment text" it would be necessary if  "the revision of the commitments is substantial." The manual adds, "A change is only substantial if the very nature or scope of the commitments changes."

"Frankly, given the results of the two earlier market tests, we cannot understand how the third proposal could be deemed anything other than a substantial change from the earlier woefully insufficient remedies proffered by Google if it is acceptable," wrote Simpson. "In other words for the third proposal to be remotely viable, it must be a substantial change from the earlier iterations.  If it is such a significant change, then – by your own procedures – you must market test it." 

So far Almunia has said only the 18 formal complainants will have an opportunity to comment when they receive formal notification of the settlement and why the Competition Commissioner believes it solves antitrust concerns.  They apparently will not receive a copy of Google's latest Commitments.  Almunia has said that his interest is in protecting consumers, not Google's competitors, Consumer Watchdog noted.

"If that's what the settlement does, why is it that leading consumer organizations on both sides of the Atlantic – BEUC and Consumer Watchdog – remain adamantly opposed to the proposed deal?" asked Simpson. "Our nonprofit nonpartisan public interest group receives no funding from Microsoft or any of Google's competitors.  Our interest in this case is only motivated by our concern for the welfare of consumers. If the deal is so good for consumers, why won't Vice President Almunia show it to them?"

Visit Consumer Watchdog's website at www.consumerwatchdog.org

SOURCE Consumer Watchdog



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