After 18 months of investigation into Google's search practices, the European Commission has found four particular areas of concern where the search engine giant may be exploiting its market dominance to the detriment of competition. Those have been set out by Joaquín Almunia, EC Vice President for Competition Policy, who has also stressed the Commission's desire to get them settled "without having to engage in adversarial proceedings." Citing Google's continued willingness to work through any issues identified by the European regulator, Almunia expresses hope that remedies to the problematic aspects of Google's business practices can be negotiated swiftly and amicably.

The investigation was started in November 2010, following complaints from Microsoft and others, and has now produced its preliminary findings. Firstly, Google's inclusion of its vertical search services alongside general search results — meaning Google maps, images, news, and the like — is deemed to be a form of preferential treatment, improperly advantaging Google's in-house software. Secondly, Almunia raises concern about Google "copying" content from other vertical search providers, referring to Google's indexing of results from competing outlets like travel and restaurant search sites. The third and fourth issues relate to search advertising and AdWords, suggesting Google is making it harder for both websites and advertisers to diversify with or move to alternative search engines.

Google could now choose to stand its ground and defend its right to operate as it is doing at present, but all indications are that there's little appetite for a fight on either side. We imagine both sides would be keen to reach a negotiated compromise as soon as possible.