US Ends Google Probe With Mild Wrist Slap
In a major victory for Google Inc, U.S. regulators on Thursday ended their investigation into the giant Internet company and concluded that it had not manipulated its Web search results to hurt rivals.
The Federal Trade Commission did, however, win promises from Google that it would end the practice of “scraping” reviews and other data from rivals’ websites for its own products, and to allow advertisers to export data to independently evaluate advertising campaigns.
Google also agreed to no longer request sales bans when suing companies which infringe on patents that are essential to ensuring interoperability, also known as standard essential patents, the FTC said on Thursday.
Microsoft Corp and other Google competitors have pressed the FTC to bring a broad antitrust case against Google similar to the sweeping Justice Department litigation against Microsoft in the 1990s.
Meanwhile smaller Internet companies such as Nextag have complained about Google tweaking its Web search results to give prominence to its own products, pushing down competitors’ rankings and making them more difficult for customers to find.
At a press conference, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz anticipated criticism of the agency’s decision to not further pursue Google on the so-called subject of search bias.
“Even though people would like us to bring a big search bias case, the facts aren’t there,” he said.
“The changes Google have agreed to make ensure that consumers continue to reap the benefits of competition in the online marketplace and in the market for innovative wireless devices they enjoy,” said Leibowitz.
The commission voted 4 to 1 to settle the patent investigation into Google’s injunction requests. It voted 5 to 0 to end the probe of Google’s search practices.
The news had little impact on Google shares, which closed up 42 cents at $723.67, as most investors had expected the FTC probe to conclude without inflicting major damage.
“I never saw any real likelihood that the feds were going to insert themselves between one of the most popular brands in the world and the constituency that adores it,” said Whit Andrews, an analyst for Gartner Inc.