Google Gets Away Scot-Free in FTC Antitrust Probe

While the FTC can claim a "victory," Google has to change very little

The long-rumored FTC settlement with Google has arrived and, just as everyone expected, despite all the grandstanding and big words, Google got away pretty much scot-free.

Sure, it agreed to "change its business practices" as the FTC put it, but that's mostly things it was already doing or that don't have much of an impact on its business, or its competitors and users for that matter.

In the most talked about issue, search bias, the FTC concluded that there isn't enough evidence that Google acted unfairly towards its competitors in a way that was detrimental to competition or users.

"The FTC concluded that the introduction of Universal Search, as well as additional changes made to Google’s search algorithms – even those that may have had the effect of harming individual competitors – could be plausibly justified as innovations that improved Google’s product and the experience of its users," the FTC said in its announcement of the deal.

Instead, Google will have to allow third-party sites the option to remove their content from review aggregator and similar pages run by Google.

This also covers Google News, publishers will be able to opt-out of being included in Google News without being removed from search results, something that wasn't possible before.

Google will also have to allow advertisers to export their ad campaigns to make it possible to port them over to a competing ad network.

Finally, in the more recent and perhaps most serious issue, Google has agreed to hear out everyone wanting to license FRAND patents and not seek out an injunction first. Overall, Google couldn't have hoped for a better outcome to the two-year investigation.

"We’ve always accepted that with success comes regulatory scrutiny. But we’re pleased that the FTC and the other authorities that have looked at Google's business practices—including the U.S. Department of Justice (in its ITA Software review), the U.S. courts (in the SearchKing and Kinderstart cases), and the Brazilian courts (in a case last year)—have concluded that we should be free to combine direct answers with web results," Google said in a blog post.

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