A 20-month antitrust probe has come to an end by Google so it can avoid a possible legal battle with regulators in the United States. Google promised it would change some of its business practices and settled allegations that it misused patents to stop competitors in smartphone technology, according to Bloomberg.
A vote of 5-0 from the Federal Trade Commission closes its investigation into whether or not Google unfairly changed its search results.
“The changes Google has agreed to make will ensure that consumers continue to reap the benefits of competition in the online marketplace and in the market for innovative wireless devices they enjoy,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said during a news conference in Washington. “This was an incredibly thorough and careful investigation by the commission, and the outcome is a strong and enforceable set of agreements.”
A group of Google’s competitors, including Microsoft Corp. and Expedia Inc., asked the FTC to investigate the practices of Google, claiming that the company’s actions violate antitrust laws. This closure of the investigation by the FTC delivers a major blow to those companies.
“Google’s competitors are looking at this as though it’s a slap on the wrist,” said Jeffrey Jacobovitz, an antitrust litigator with Arnall Golden Gregory LLP in Washington. “It’s clear the FTC thought this was the best deal they could get and if they had gone to court, they may not have been as successful.”
Google said it agreed in a letter sent to the FTC that websites are going to be allowed to take down their own content, which includes reviews from search-result pages for travel, locan and shopping.
The decision from the FTC provides Google with the permission to use its “universal search,” which is when the company mixes its own answers with other sources in search results.
“We’ve always accepted that with success comes regulatory scrutiny,” Google said in a blog post on the subject. “We’re pleased that the FTC and the other authorities that have looked at Google’s business practices have concluded we should be free to combine direct answers with Web results.”
The lawyer hired by the FTC, Beth Wilkinson, said the following in a statement: “Undoubtedly, Google took aggressive actions to gain advantage over rival search providers. However, the FTC’s mission is to protect competition, and not individual competitors.”
The FTC is requiring Google to submit reports regarding its compliance with the agreement for the next five years. The FTC can review documents of Google and interview employees if it suspects that the company is not complying with the agreement, according to Peter Levitas, a deputy for the bureau of compliance, said.
Tom Rosch, the FTC Commissioner, said in a statement that he thinks Google’s behavior did not warrant punishment. Rosch also said that the agreement accepted by the FTC “creates very bad precedent and may lead to the impression that well-heeled firms such as Google will receive special treatment at the commission. Instead of following standard commission procedure and entering into a binding consent agreement to resolve the majority’s concerns, Google has instead made non-binding commitments with respect to its search practices. After promising an elephant more than a year ago, the commission instead has brought forth a couple of mice.”