The Federal Trade Commission has ended a 20-month-long probe into search engine Google’s practice of skewing searches to highlight their own interests. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found that Google hadn’t violated antitrust laws in the way it displays search results. A group of competitors and online retail businesses under the name FairSearch.org had urged the FTC to delay their decision until Google had submitted a proposal on how they intended to resolve a similar investigation by the European Commission. But the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, Jon Leibowitz, said that they didn’t believe that the evidence supported further inquiry.
The probe stemmed from Google’s practice of displaying search results that promoted their related businesses at the top of the page. For example, if you search for a hotel, your search would show results from Google’s travel sector at the top, rather than Expedia or Kayak or others. Apparently that’s not quite as bad as it sounds, at least not to the FTC, who took Google’s word for it that they would make “minor changes” in the search algorithm.
What was unacceptable to the FTC was Google’s patents on cellphone technology, as it ordered Google to share that technology with rivals. This will benefit the users as well, as we will likely see more innovative gadgets down the road. In addition, the FTC ordered Google to stop lifting content from other websites, especially content such as reviews. Websites will also be able to exempt their content from focused searches – such as local businesses or shopping – without being punished by Google, who would allegedly demote or remove those websites from future searches.
The coalition at FairSearch has vowed not to give up, saying that the FTC’s decision will allow Google to further stack the deck in their own favor. Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee is one ally. He said in an email statement that “… it’s disappointing that the FTC is relying on “simple, voluntary commitments from Google to end certain practices that a majority of commissioners found to have raised strong concerns about impeding innovation.” Others, like John Simpson of Consumer Watchdog, are saying that the FTC “rolled over” for Google.
Google will now have to address those same concerns with the European Commission. Google has sent the required letter to the EC detailing how it will resolve concerns much the same as the ones here in the U.S., including the self-promotion of its services. It is hoped by Google’s competitors that the EC will enact stricter enforcement and so be able to demand more concessions of the search engine. According to The Guardian, the EC is saying today that it has “… had reached a good level of understanding with the search giant…” An agreement now would avoid a long, drawn-out court battle and possible billion-dollar fines.