Not everyone pleased by Google FTC outcome

January 3, 2013 9:02:20 PM PST
Thursday marked the end of the federal government's nearly two-year investigation into Google's business practices. Not everyone's happy with the outcome.

The Federal Trade Commission had accused Google of trying to shut out its competitors and was considering an anti-trust suit. Other search companies were hoping Google would get a slap in the face but observers say what they got was a slap on the wrist.

"Google dodged a bullet on this one; this could've been very bad for them, instead, they had to give up almost nothing," Cnet writer Casey Newton said.

Newton has been following the case for almost two years

The case ended as Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Liebowitz took the microphone in a blurry webcast to announce a settlement.

First, the commission ordered Google to license its cellphone patents to its competitors for a reasonable price and drop the lawsuits against them.

Since Google bought Motorola, it now owns patents on the core technology in almost every wireless device.

Google's" unfair conduct threatened to block consumers' access to critical electronic devices, including laptop, tablet computers, smartphones and gaming systems," Liebowitz said.

Second, Google agreed to let websites opt out of what's called "scraping" -- where Google integrates things like Yelp reviews directly into maps and other search results.

"Anyone who used Google got all the benefits of Yelp's product without ever having to visit Yelp so Yelp couldn't make any money off you if you were getting all your Yelp reviews just from a Google search," Newton said.

Third, the commission found Google was not unfairly rigging search results by favoring its own products.

"It's a unanimous five-nothing vote to close the search investigation and the reason is it doesn't violate the American anti-trust laws," Liebowitz said.

"They gave Google a free pass on that; that issue is the No. 1 most important issue to Google and they got a pass," Newton said.

In a statement, Google said the conclusion is clear: Google's services are good for users and good for competition.

But fairsearch.org, an alliance of Google's competitors, including Microsoft, said the FTC's decision to close its investigation with only voluntary commitments from Google is disappointing and premature.

Newton adds they're minor commitments at that.

"Ultimately, these look more like scraps that Google gave up to the FTC to help the FTC save some face at a time when the FTC had bet big on an anti-trust lawsuit and come up empty," Newton said.

South Bay congresswomen Anna Eshoo and Zoe Lofgren said they're pleased with the settlement. Both had expressed concern over the investigation.


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