(CN) - Google users in the EU will soon see ads from other search engines alongside the search giant's own promoted results under an agreement that the European Commission revealed Wednesday.
The deal ends effectively ends a lengthy antitrust investigation into Google's practices throughout Europe, launched by the commission in November 2010. Two years ago, regulators ordered the tech giant to address "four concerns where Google business practices may be considered as abuses of dominance" primarily related to the way its search engine works.
Commissioners accused Google of making it too difficult for upstarts to get into the online-advertising business by blocking advertisers from switching to other search engines and forcing website publishers to obtain the majority of their online search advertisements from Google.
Google's tactics have been particularly effective in Europe where the company handles up to 90 percent of all Internet searches in some countries. In contrast, Internet users in the U.S. use Google only about 70 percent of the time.
Under the agreement, Google promised to display ad results from three rivals - selected objectively - beside its own promoted content. An independent monitor will assess compliance for at least the next five years, as well as oversee a bidding process through which the rivals will pay Google for featuring their ads in a search.
Previously, Google agreed to give extensive opt-outs and remove exclusivity requirements for web publishers using its search services and advertising campaigns.
The new deal requires the search giant's rivals - which filed the 18 formal complaints that led to the commission's investigation - to sign off on it. Competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia nevertheless deemed the agreement fair to Google, its rivals and users alike.
"My mission is to protect competition to the benefit of consumers, not competitors," Almunia said in a statement. "I believe that the new proposal obtained from Google after long and difficult talks can now address the commission's concerns. Without preventing Google from improving its own services, it provides users with real choice between competing services presented in a comparable way; it is then up to them to choose the best alternative. This way, both Google and its rivals will be able and encouraged to innovate and improve their offerings. Turning this proposal into a legally binding obligation for Google would ensure that competitive conditions are both restored quickly and maintained over the next years."
Regulators said the agreement is legally binding and applies throughout the 30-nation European Economic Area. While the deal may help Google avoid $5 billion in fines from the commission, complaints about Google's practices - and the commission's agreement - will likely end up in the EU high court.
"A settlement without third party review is a massive failure," according to a statement from online competition watchdog group ICOMP, short for Initiative for a Competitive Online Marketplace.
"Without a third party review, Almunia risks having the wool pulled over his eyes by Google," ICOMP added. "Having initially welcomed earlier proposals, effective market tests demonstrated their fatal flaws and the commission rightly rejected them. Why has Almunia chosen to ignore the expert advice of the market on this occasion?
"We do not believe Google has any intention of holding itself to account on these proposals," the U.K.-based group continued. "And given the catastrophic effects on the online ecosystem that a proposal that doesn't hit the mark will have, we would implore Commissioner Almunia to allow a full third party review of their submission as the very least the Commission can do in this landmark case."
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