Google Offers to Tweak Shopping Over EU Antitrust Concerns

In this photo illustration, the Google logo is displayed on a mobile phone and computer monitor on August 09, 2017 in London, England. Getty Images/Leon Neal, File

Google has proposed a remedy for its search results that European regulators have said favor its own shopping listings: holding an auction for those advertiser-paid spots.

But critics say the proposal still favors the deep-pocketed tech giant, and Europe's top antitrust regulator is taking a wait-and-see attitude.

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Google said Thursday it will still present users with photos and prices when they search for products online and offer a link directly to where they can be purchased. It said in a blog post it will actively bid for those spots against other comparison shopping services and treat its Google Shopping unit as a separate company that needs to turn a profit.

The company is appealing a $2.9 billion fine imposed by European regulators for favoring shopping listings it gets paid for, but it had to provide a way to give equal treatment to competitors by Thursday or risk further fines.

The auction was up and running Thursday in European countries such as Britain, France and Germany, and competitors such as Kelkoo, Twenga and Shopzilla were participating in the new system, according to screenshots provided by Google.

A spokesperson for European Union Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager told CNBC it was "premature" for the commission to take a definitive view of the proposed remedy and put the onus on Google to obey the equal-treatment mandate imposed in June.

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Open Markets Institute, a non-profit monopoly watchdog based in Washington, said the proposal "falls far short" of what is necessary to address the company's abuse of its dominance in search.

"The auction model that Google now proposes would tilt the playing field to favor rich companies such as Google — which can simply pay more for search result slots — over less well-capitalized companies that may offer the public better services and more relevant results," it said.