Google, FTC Negotiate End To Investigation
Enid Burns for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
According to anonymous sources, Google appears to have succeeded in negotiating an end to the FTC investigation that looked into the search engine giant’s search practices. The Washington Post reported on Monday the Federal Trade Commission has reached a deal that could end a nearly two-year-old investigation.
News reports suggest the FTC would take no action against Google for its alleged abuse of power over the search engine market to hurt rival companies or even give it an advantage with its own online services.
While any deal would still require the approval of the five-member commission, it is rumored it could fall short of what Google’s rivals had hoped for. Several rivals have formed a consortium, FairSearch.org and they issued a statement on Monday on its blog:
“It’s vital that the FTC live up to its mission of ‘protecting America’s consumers’ by taking a strong, legally binding enforcement action to permanently end Google’s biased display of search results and other harmful abuses of monopoly power that threaten to reduce consumer choice and innovation in Internet services. Enforcement authorities should not allow Google to retain an unfair advantage in the market gained through years of anti-competitive behavior.”
Google will reportedly accept an agreement from the FTC that will include concessions that are being called “voluntary.”
The allegations against Google have mainly focused on how the company generates and displays search results for products, with the added belief Google has increasingly given over more space on its own web page to ads.
Last month Microsoft had accused Google of being “Scrooge-like” even in the way it handles results in the Google Shopping tool. redOrbit reported “Microsoft contends that the ads are simply meant to provide a service to holiday shoppers.”
Will it end with clever ad campaigns and finger pointing? Not likely.
There have been suggestions FairSearch.org or other rivals could pressure the Justice Department to take up the cause, as it shares responsibility for antitrust enforcement. Whether such a move actually happens is yet to be seen.
“Reportedly, the groups and companies hoping for a consent decree or other more serious sanctions against Google have been going ‘forum shopping’ by trying to interest the Justice Department in taking up their cause,” said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. “Since rumors about the upcoming decision suggest the FTC wasn’t able to find evidence that Google’s actions harmed consumers – a critical point in, say, the Microsoft anti-trust ruling – it seems unlikely that Google’s detractors will have much luck finding anyone willing to go to bat for them.”
Nor is it likely Google donated money to any political cause or campaign to win favor.
“I don’t see any evidence of that,” King told redOrbit. “If the FTC is lenient, I expect it will be due to them deciding that Google’s leadership in search/advertising is due more to superior technology/execution than anti-competitive behavior.”
Additionally, it could be argued the Obama administration has been far friendlier to market and industry regulation than previous administrations.
“In fact, you could argue that the dilution of the anti-trust admonishments – by President George W Bush’s first attorney general John Ashcroft – against Microsoft were largely politically related, making its ‘scroogled’ claims against Google’s practices ironic in the extreme,” added King.
FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz declined to comment.