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Google told by EC to play ball or face a trial

The European Commission is warning Google to change its search methods or the company will be forced into court over antitrust issues.

Google has been given an ultimatum by the European Commission: straighten up or we'll take you to court.

The search giant has been under the microscope of the EC over complaints that it has stifled competition in the search market by favoring its own businesses. Several companies have alleged that Google purposely tweaks its search results so that its own sites appear before those of potential rivals.

Until now, the EC been in no rush to launch formal charges against Google. But now the war of words has been ramped up a few notches.

Joaquin Almunia, the European Commission's head of competition, has given Google a deadline of July 2 to change its search results and ad rules or face a trial and the possibility of a hefty fine, according to the Guardian. The deadline and threats were spelled out in a letter sent to Google in light of concerns over the company's dominant position in Europe.

A spokesman for Google told CNET simply that "we continue to work cooperatively with the European Commission."

But the company was a bit more detailed in a statement to the Guardian:

"We operate in over 100 countries around the world, and the Internet is disruptive by its nature. It's understandable that our business should attract scrutiny and sometimes complaints in a few of those countries. We're always happy to answer questions authorities may have about our business."

A Google spokesman also suggested that "we've been co-operating with [the EC's] investigation and that issues can be solved through conversation," the Guardian added.

Almunia has indicated a willingness to settle with Google to avoid a courtroom showdown, but his patience may be wearing thin.

Google is also facing similar antitrust woes in other countries.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission hired high-profile attorney Beth Wilkinson to determine whether the company has violated antitrust laws in the United States.

Some experts believe the FTC is using Wilkinson's reputation as a tough litigator to force Google to settle or wind up in court.

Updated at 6:45 a.m. PT with statement from Google.