Google Search Rankings Probe Ends in Controversy

Dennis Faas's picture

Insiders say it now looks as though Google will not be punished for allegedly favoring its own web sites when compiling its search engine results pages.

Rival firms are already complaining such an outcome would allow Google to retain an unfairly-won advantage over them.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been looking into a series of allegations that Google abused its dominance of the Internet search market by unfairly favoring its own websites when compiling its search results.

However, observers say the punishment the FTC could inflict on Google is unclear, even if the regulatory agency determined the search giant was guilty of wrong-doing.

Last month, leaked reports suggested the FTC was unlikely to force Google to dramatically change the way it does business.

Google has also been unwilling to accept a "consent decree" that would put into force any changes to its business operations that the company might agree to make.

This stalemate appeared to leave the FTC only one choice: take the case to court. But victory there is far from certain.

Now, people "familiar with the matter" have told Bloomberg news the FTC investigation won't lead to a formal agreement. Instead, Google will settle the matter by accepting two FTC-suggested changes. (Source:

Google to Stop Copying Material Without Permission

First, Google will write a public letter to the FTC promising not to copy material from other sites without consent. This won't apply to the short "snippets" of text that appear on search results pages, which Google considers fair use and thus exempt from copyright restrictions.

Instead, it will cover cases where Google has been copying entire reviews from other websites.

Second, Google will give advertisers reports that show how their campaigns have performed on Google compared with other sites.

Should a settlement be finalized along these lines, Google would not have to change the order in which it ranks various websites within its search results, which many consider to have been the major bone of contention.

Google's Promises Won't Be Binding

Furthermore, if Google doesn't sign a consent decree, any promises it does make will not be legally enforceable.

The firms claiming to be harmed by Google's current business practices say such a deal wouldn't meet their minimum expectations. Through a lawyer, the firms argued that, at the very least, Google should be forced to publicly admit it intentionally gives higher rankings to its own sites.

Meanwhile, a lobbying group comprised of companies to be affected by any FTC / Google agreement says the FTC's failure to take formal action will simply encourage Google to use unfair business practices again in the future. (Source:

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