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FTC Closes Google Inquiry; Tech Giant Makes Changes And Avoids Antitrust Charges

Filed by KOSU News in Business.
January 3, 2013

Google has agreed to change some of its business practices, in an agreement made with the Federal Trade Commission that will end the U.S. agency’s antitrust probe of the search and technology company.

In the terms of the deal, Google agrees not to appropriate content such as users’ reviews from other sites for use in its search and mobile offerings. The company also pledged to make it easier for advertisers to compare the value of running ad campaigns through Google compared to advertising on rivals Yahoo and Microsoft.

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, who announced the long-awaited deal Thursday, says Google will end “the most troubling of its business practices related to Internet search and search advertising,” particularly the “scraping” of other sites for content.

Update at 1:55 p.m. ET: Google’s Take On Agreement.

Saying that “We’ve always accepted that with success comes regulatory scrutiny,” Google senior vice president and chief legal officer David Drummond says that companies “can now remove content (for example reviews) from specialized search results pages, such as local, travel and shopping.”

As for the patent aspects of the deal, Drummond writes, “This agreement establishes clear rules of the road for standards essential patents going forward.”

If you’d like to read the agreement for yourself, it’s on the FTC’s site.

Our original post continues:

The agreement closes the FTC’s antitrust investigation of Google that began in June of 2011, after many of Google’s competitors complained that the company was using its dominant spot in the search market to funnel business to its offerings in other areas, as well. The consumer review website Yelp and online shopping engine Expedia have been among those calling for Google to change its ways.

The agreement also requires Google to ease the process for other companies to license “essential” patented mobile and wireless technology that was once widely available under terms set by Motorola years ago. Google acquired Motorola for nearly $13 billion last year, in part to gain control of its more than 24,000 patents.

The change, Leibowitz says, “will also relieve companies of hoarding patents for defensive purposes.”

While Google agreed to make those changes, it is not being required to alter its essential search practices. The company has previously been accused of configuring its algorithms to privilege its own products — something its rivals call “search bias.”

On its website, the agency says that “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. It therefore has chosen to close the investigation.” [Copyright 2013 National Public Radio]

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