Google defends Digital Markets Act changes, cites complex trade-offs

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By Foo Yun Chee

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Alphabet's Google on Thursday will seek to fend off criticism about changes to its core services mandated by landmark EU tech rules, according to a copy of a senior Google executive's speech seen by Reuters.

Oliver Bethell, a lawyer who leads Google's EMEA competition team, will tell regulators and rivals that balancing the various interests has required the tech company to make complex trade-offs, according to the document.

Under the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which kicked in on March 7, users can remove any Google pre-installed software or app if they want while Google will need their consent to use their data across its various services or for personalised ads.

Google is not allowed to favour its services or products over rivals on its platform.

The DMA aims to rein in Big Tech’s power, ensure a level playing field for smaller rivals and give users more choices. The Act designates companies that control access to their platforms, such as Google, as a gatekeeper.

Rivals ranging from comparison shopping sites to hotels, airlines and restaurants have said the changes made by Google do not comply with the DMA and have urged the European Commission to act. Some rivals have complained that Google's search traffic results are even worse than prior to the changes.

Bethell says in the speech that re-wiring the company's search engine has been a balancing act.

"We need to balance the new opportunities 6(11) is intended to create with the risk to user privacy and security," Bethell will tell a workshop organised by the European Commission to allow rivals and other interested parties to quiz the company. Six/11 refers to a DMA article.

"The balance requires complex trade-offs," Bethell says in the document. "There is a question of when do we go too far by giving online search engines sensitive information at a high cost to users."

Bethell said some changes demanded by vertical search engines went beyond the DMA.

"We heard some calls for changes from stakeholders that we think would fundamentally degrade Search for European users and businesses, that are not required by the DMA and that we can't implement," he said.

"The DMA should not require a degraded search experience on Google for European consumers."

Bethell also took a swipe at other companies designated as gatekeepers under the DMA which have faced criticism over their compliance efforts.

"As we comply with the DMA, engage with the Commission, and listen to feedback from third parties, we expect the same from other gatekeepers too," he said.

DMA breaches can cost companies as much as 10% of their annual global turnover.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee in Brussels; Editing by Matthew Lewis)