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EU to Google: Improve antitrust settlement or face charges

After three previous settlement attempts, regulators say formal objections are the "logical next step" if the two sides can't come to an agreement.

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The search giant is facing scrutiny from European regulators over how it displays search results for its competitors. Getty Images

The European Union on Tuesday told Google it must strengthen its proposal to settle antitrust concerns or it will face formal charges from the commission.

In February, Google reached a tentative settlement with European regulators after a now 4-year-old investigation into allegedly favoring its own products and services over those of competitors in search results. As part of the settlement, Google agreed to display search results for its own services in the same way as those for rival companies, but did not have to pay a fine.

But Google's settlement proposal has come under fire after widespread criticism and complaints, including from European politicians, competitors like Microsoft, and French and German publishers. On Tuesday, EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said the commission was swayed by "fresh evidence" and "solid arguments" from twenty formal complaints.

"We now need to see if Google can address these issues and allay our concerns," wrote Almunia. The search giant has attempted to settle the case three times before. If Google's response doesn't satisfy the commission, the "logical next step is to prepare a Statement of Objections," Almunia said, referring to formal charges.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The matter underscores worry over Google's expansive reach and the search giant's potential to abuse its influence to hurt competitors. The company may also face scrutiny by European regulators over business practices related to Android, the most popular mobile operating system in the world. The probe would examine whether or not Android's dominance, with around 80 percent market share of smartphones, unfairly spreads the use of Google services over those of rivals.

Almunia, who has defended the commission's handling of the probe, is getting ready to leave his post as commissioner. The final decision will then fall to his successor, former Danish economy minister Margrethe Vestager, who will take office in November.

"We have to make sure that there is a high degree of security in relation to personal data," she told The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. "That there is a high degree of confidence from the people that the competition rules and regulations on market fairness are actually being enforced."