Critics Blast Google’s European Antitrust Offer

Google's latest offer to settle a European investigation into the alleged abuse of its dominant positions in online search and advertising leaked out Wednesday, with one competitor calling it "a new form of abuse."

The European Union's competition commissioner, Joaquin Almunia, has praised Google's latest proposal as a "significant improvement" from earlier versions and appears to be near a decision to approve it. But Google competitors and some consumer groups are fiercely critical of the plan.

John Simpson of Consumer Watchdog, the U.S. consumer rights group that circulated the 96-page document, which is dated Oct. 21 and marked confidential, said he did so because it was in the public interest.

"(The plan) does nothing to fix the underlying problem of how Google manipulates search results to unfairly advantage its own services like Google Shopping or Google Maps over competitors," Simpson told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

Screenshots of how search results would look under Google Inc.'s proposed settlement show the Internet giant would still give its own services pre-eminent placement in commercial searches such as for hotels, restaurants or plane tickets. Three competitors could bid to display their services, complete with logos, in subordinate slots. Both Google's and competitors' offerings would be labeled as "sponsored" results.

Regular search results would be displayed lower down on the page.

Google spokesman Al Verney on Wednesday repeated the company's position that opponents of the deal are seeking to entangle Google in never-ending legal disputes.

One Google competitor, Shivaun Raff, founder of Foundem.com, a British-based Web site that offers shoppers price comparison, said she had refrained from discussing the details of Google's plan up until now on instructions from the EU Commission. But on Wednesday she blasted the idea of Google charging rivals for links placement as "a devastating new form of abuse."

Raff said it was "inconceivable" that the...

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