Google and EU working towards antitrust settlement?

Internet giant Google has run into increasing amounts of friction with the European Union, with the European Union launching a formal antitrust investigation almost a year ago. The EU’s scrutiny has focused not only on the company’s Google Books and Google Street View projects, but has also spilled over into the company’s core online advertising business and even looking into whether the company demotes competitors in search results listings. However, now reports have the company looking to avoid a possible lengthy (and very public) court battle with the EU by reaching some sort of out-of-court resolution.

According to Reuters, Google executives and EU regulators are in early stages of talks aimed towards reaching a settlement of the antitrust investigation. Reuters’ source says no concrete proposals have been made, and notes that it would be months before regulators decide whether they want to move ahead seriously with settlement talks or pursue a court case. As part of the investigation, regulators have sent questionnaires to Web site owners, operators of competing Internet search operations, publishers, and online advertisers about Google’s business practices. The questionnaires are due back this week.

Under EU law, the European Commission can fine companies up to 10 percent of their global revenue for breaching EU antitrust regulations. The Commission has previously levied enormous antitrust penalties against both Microsoft and Intel.

Google has repeatedly indicated it is cooperating with the investigation, and outgoing Google CEO Eric Schmidt said in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph that the company would prefer to avoid a drawn-out legal tussle.

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