Google Search Rigging May Go Unpunished: FTC

Dennis Faas's picture

Insider reports suggest the US government may decide against taking Google to court over allegations it fixed its search results for its own benefit.

Officials are reportedly concerned they don't have evidence to suggest such practices actually harmed any web users.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been carrying out a preliminary investigation to determine whether or not Google has broken any rules. If the FTC does find Google violated federal law, it must then determine what the government can do.

Investigation Focuses on Smartphone, Search Markets

The investigation covers several different issues, including:

  • The way Google uses patents in the smartphone market.
  • The search services Google provides to major websites.
  • The suggestion that Google reproduced customer reviews from rival sites without authorization. (Source:

According to some observers, none of these issues involve antitrust behavior, the main issue on which the FTC is authorized to prosecute.

The antitrust angle was one of the reasons the FTC took over the investigation that was begun by the Justice Department. If the FTC goes ahead with charges solely on other issues, that could lead to political challenges over its authority. (Source:

Google Results 'Bias' Are Heart Of Case

The claim against Google is that the search giant didn't always present its search results with the best interests of the average user in mind.

Some people claim the company was intentionally biased towards its own services and business partners, and that it placed those sites higher in search results even when they weren't the best or most relevant.

Google's defenders have argued the company has the right to arrange its search results however it likes, just as a newspaper can decide which stories to put on its front page.

However, others suggest that Google's domination of the search market brings with it an obligation to honor the best interests of the average searcher.

FTC officials worry that demonstrating Google has a ranking bias, and that it hurts other companies, won't be enough. They'll also need to prove it hurts Internet users.

That could be tricky to prove because there is nothing stopping web users from switching to another search engine (like Microsoft's Bing) if they aren't happy with Google results.

Observers expect the FTC's board of commissioners to decide what, if any, action to take later this month.

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