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EU still unhappy with how Google shows search results

Antitrust chief Joaquin Almunia says Google must offer to change how it shows in-house services such as maps, comparison-shopping info, and flight details -- or face formal antitrust charges.

Google will have to change the way it presents its own services in its search results if it wants to avoid antitrust charges in the European Union, according to comments made by EU antitrust chief Joaquín Almunia.

Almunia, the EU's competition commissioner, told the Financial Times (subscription required): "We are still investigating, but my conviction is [Google is] diverting traffic" to in-house services such as maps, comparison-shopping info, and flight details. "They are monetizing this kind of business, the strong position they have in the general search market, and this is not only a dominant position, I think -- I fear -- there is an abuse of this dominant position," Almunia said.

Google will have to satisfactorily address these concerns in its upcoming proposal to the European Commission, Almunia said, or the Commission will be "obliged" to issue formal charges against the company. Google's proposal is expected to come this month.

The European Commission has spent the past two years investigating Google after competitors such as Microsoft complained that the search powerhouse adjusted search results to bring up its products and Web sites first.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission recently wrapped up its own probe of the search giant, with what some rivals say was a slap on the wrist. Under the FTC's settlement, a handful of companies may choose to stop showing their results inside Google products like Google+ Local, Google Shopping, and Hotels. Otherwise, however, Google can continue operating as normal, with its search results looking more or less the same.

Almunia told the Financial Times that the Commission's thinking was in line with the FTC's in regard to some aspects of the U.S. settlement, namely, Google's use of "snippets" -- bits of text culled from sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor and displayed in search results -- and the company's handling of the porting of search-ad campaigns from Google to rival search services. He also said his concerns were not about Google's overall search algorithm.

Almunia said the EU's tougher stance on the in-house products has to do with Google's greater dominance in Europe compared with its position in the U.S., and with the more lenient antitrust laws in the United States.