Google Retains Right to Control Search Results
After spending more than a year investigating allegations that Google favored its own products when producing search results, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has decided against imposing any serious punishment on the search giant.
In response, Google is both celebrating the decision and also using the FTC report for its own benefit.
The FTC decision is in line with earlier reports that suggested government officials simply didn't have much proof of any wrongdoing by Google.
In what appears to be an agreed-upon outcome, Google has promised that for the next five years it will make it easier for advertisers to compare prices and performance on Google's AdWords system with rival online ad networks.
It will also refrain from using third-party product listings and reviews on its own pages without permission. (Source: ftc.gov)
Search Rankings Bias Doesn't Break Rules
The FTC has also concluded there is no firm evidence to suggest that Google abused its market dominance by favoring its own websites when determining the order of search results.
In effect, the FTC has decided that Google has the right to list results any way it sees fit, even if that way is biased. The FTC apparently reasons that if users don't consider the results useful or accurate, they can easily switch to another search tool, such as Microsoft's Bing.
According to the FTC, while Google's ranking policies may harm rival companies, they can "be plausibly justified as innovations that improved Google's product and the experience of its users."
Google's legal chief David Drummond has already made what many think is a cheeky reference to that line, noting that the company starts the new year "excited about our ability to innovate for the benefit of users everywhere." (Source: theregister.co.uk)
Government Concludes Consumers Unharmed
James Miller, a former FTC chief, argues that the search rankings issue was never likely to result in a ruling against Google. He notes that antitrust laws are designed to protect consumers and not rival companies.
Miller also says that those pressing for Google's punishment "couldn't overcome the simple fact that consumers use Google's services more because they think the services are the best." (Source: wsj.com)
Google hasn't won every battle, however. A parallel FTC investigation has led to Google being forced to share some of its smartphone patents.
The FTC concluded in this case that because the patents relate to industry standard technologies, Google must license them to rivals on "fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms."
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