As Expected, FTC Announces Close Of Google Investigation With No Antitrust Charges, But Minor Tweaks To Biz Practices

from the no-surprise dept

It appears that the rumors from last month were entirely accurate. The FTC more or less has admitted that it can't find any real antitrust problems with Google, but did get Google to agree to a few minor tweaks in how it operates -- which lets the FTC declare victory. On the big question of antitrust, however, which Microsoft and other sites led the charge on, the FTC came up completely empty, noting that the goal Google's practices was, in fact, to offer a better consumer experience, rather than to be anti-competitive.

The biggest "change" to Google's business practices is really from an issue they inherited: the handling of Motorola's standards essential patents. We were among those confused by Google's decision a year ago to continue Motorola's more aggressive practices with its standards essential patents, basically trying to get injunctions to block competitors who don't license at the (way too high) rates that Motorola was offering. This made no sense to us at the time, given Google's previous statements about the problems of the patent system. Here was a case where they had a chance to put their words into further action, and they didn't. And that became the biggest part of the FTC settlement. Seems like Google could have avoided a headache just by backing down initially. Either way, even the "settlement" aspect here is really small. Google has agreed that before seeking an injunction, it'll go to arbitration to determine what is a "fair and reasonable" royalty on those patents. To be honest, this seems like the kind of thing that Google was probably perfectly happy to "cave" on -- and it almost makes you wonder if they kept up Motorola's practices just to give the FTC some "red meat" to make FTC boss Jon Liebowitz happy.

There were a few other small changes, such as allowing sites to opt out of just Google News if they don't like traffic. In the past, sites had to opt out of all Google search if they didn't want to appear in Google News -- and some incredibly shortsighted news publications didn't like that. So, basically, now Google is giving them the ability to hurt their own traffic from Google News if they so choose. Also, Google will allow companies to more easily manage ad campaigns across multiple platforms, rather than effectively making them repeat the process for multiple platforms.

The end result here, even as the FTC declares victory, has to be seen as a big victory for Google. It made a few tweaks to its business practices -- most of which it probably should have done anyway (and some of which I think it should go even further on). And on the big question of "antitrust" and "search bias" the FTC came up totally empty -- even as FTC boss Liebowitz made it clear that he would have loved it if breaking up Google's monopoly was his legacy. As the FTC announcement notes, try as hard as they could, they just couldn't make the claim stick. I love the begrudging language they use here:
The FTC conducted an extensive investigation into allegations that Google had manipulated its search algorithms to harm vertical websites and unfairly promote its own competing vertical properties, a practice commonly known as “search bias.” In particular, the FTC evaluated Google’s introduction of “Universal Search” – a product that prominently displays targeted Google properties in response to specific categories of searches, such as shopping and local – to determine whether Google used that product to reduce or eliminate a nascent competitive threat. Similarly, the investigation focused on the allegation that Google altered its search algorithms to demote certain vertical websites in an effort to reduce or eliminate a nascent competitive threat. According to the Commission statement, however, 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.
In the end, this seems like a massive waste of taxpayer money and the FTC's time and resources. While the announcement claims they got Google to agree to "significant" changes in its business practices, that's a laughable claim when you look at the details.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2013 @ 11:01am

    Committing to not pursuing injunctions for FRAND commitments is merely giving in to the inevitable... courts have already begun to adopt the position that such pursuits don't meet the standards for injunctions. Definitely a win for Google.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2013 @ 11:04am

    I get the feeling the whole issues was started by competitors to complain about having to compete with Google. Also I agree these are things Google should have been doing anyways.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    sehlat (profile), 3 Jan 2013 @ 11:10am

    Remember This

    The whole thing was pretty much politically motivated, with Google's erstwhile competitors leading the charge. The FTC's claim of "significance" rests on one eternal truth:

    In the political arena, perception IS reality.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Michael, 3 Jan 2013 @ 11:21am

    There he goes again...

    There he goes again, Mike Masnick, Google fanboy touting Google's win over the FTC after they receive a business-crushing blow from the FTC forcing them to seek only "fair and reasonable" royalties and allowing hard-working news outlets to opt-out of the most important source of audience members available.

    Admit it - you are being paid by Google to spin these matters and will only write articles that put Google in the best light possible. The FTC here is the clear winner.

    how did I do?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Rikuo (profile), 3 Jan 2013 @ 11:27am

    Re: There he goes again...

    Very well...well I would say that, but you wrote it too well if you get my drift i.e. you had perfect grammar and spelling. Also, you had the comment in the right article, that's something hasn't_got_a_clue almost never does. You also left out the mysterious link at the end.

    I'll give you 5/10. I do have to admit, I was mentally thinking up how to shred what you were saying until it dawned me that this is a pretend-troll.

    As an aside: the trolls have pretty much been quiet today. Other than about two or three comments tops today, they haven't been seen. Wonder what's going on...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    John Doe, 3 Jan 2013 @ 11:27am

    Re: There he goes again...

    Business crushing blow? You really think so? I guess time will tell, but somehow I think Google will absorb the changes like a Cadillac hitting a speed bump on the information super highway.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    artp (profile), 3 Jan 2013 @ 11:30am

    It worked for the FTC

    They didn't have to investigate Microsoft and risk the ire of the richest man in the world. They know where the real power lies.

    Now, if I could just buy a brand-name computer with the Linux distro of my choice without having to know the double-top-secret password to get at them, I would be a happy man. The last new computer that I bought was an HP business model back before Carly merged them with DEC/Compaq. I've been living on cast-offs from a recycler, Midwest Computer Brokers in Walford, Iowa ( since then - and before then, come to think of it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2013 @ 11:32am

    Re: There he goes again...

    You did well enough. But suffice it to say you were lacking in the grammar area, or better said NOT lacking in it. Meaning you need to stop using proper grammar and punctuation.

    Also, not sure who you were trying to emulate. If it's bob remember the key thing is not saying Google, always refer to "Big Search" and it has to be spelled just like that with the "b" and the "s" capitalized.

    If you were trying to portray OotB then you must get even more ridiculous in your logic and refer to them as grifters.

    As either always make sure to mention stealing from the artists and wanting free content without paying their fair share.

    Also, if you're going to use the Google shill bit make sure not to leave that open for interpretation. There's no room for debate, meaning the "Admit it" bit can be left out. Mike IS a Google shill. Period. Or at least that's what AJ, a few ACs and blue and bob claim he is. All evidence, including the article they reference to as their "proof" of it not withstanding. (Because said article quite clearly states that Mike isn't a Google shill, but that Google presented to the judge in said case a list of anyone and everyone who wrote about the case in any way, shape or form. How they spin that to "Google shill" is beyond me, but then again I have a fully functional brain. They don't.)

    Beyond that, well done. I'd give you a 8 out of 10 for the effort but I'd drop it to an overall 6 out of 10 for the presentation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    gorehound (profile), 3 Jan 2013 @ 11:45am

    Re: Remember This

    More examples of the Waste of our Taxpayer Money !
    And these bozo Politicians are the ones who waste the Money.
    So, what do they do ?
    They use Dis-Information to sell their BS to the many Sheeple in this Nation.
    Back in the 70's we called em The Moral Majority or The Establishment.I am still here fighting from the sidelines.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Michael, 3 Jan 2013 @ 11:50am

    Re: Re: There he goes again...

    Ok, let me get this straight:

    1) I did not make enough grammatical errors
    2) I either needed to replace "Google" with "Big Search", or needed to be much more over the top
    3) I totally forgot to mention stealing from artists
    4) I included an "Admit it" that should not have been there

    and yet, I get an 8 out of 10? Have you, by chance, been a judge on American Idol? I totally sucked.

    Oh well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    PRMan, 3 Jan 2013 @ 12:29pm

    Re: Remember This

    I think the system worked exactly as it should in this case.

    1. Google's competitors complained
    2. FTC investigated
    3. FTC recommended minor changes to Google on things that looked anti-competitive
    4. Google agreed to the changes
    5. Case closed.

    I don't see anywhere near the blatant anti-competitive nature that Microsoft in the past (or even Apple right now) have shown.

    We should be applauding instead of criticizing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2013 @ 12:38pm

    Re: Re: Re: There he goes again...

    I gave you an 8 for the EFFORT. Your heart was in the right place after all.

    But I brought your score down for the overall presentation/performance.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    Berenerd (profile), 3 Jan 2013 @ 12:55pm

    Re: Re: Remember This

    its more of, it took longer for them to do this than it did when they investigated Microsoft, and Microsoft was actually found to be in violation. The cost for the american public considering it was Google competitors bringing the charges was wasted.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), 3 Jan 2013 @ 1:51pm

    Re: There he goes again...

    "after they receive a business-crushing blow"

    Shall we wait to see the quarterly or annual report to determine exactly how much this is a "business crushing blow"?

    I'm betting it is completely immaterial, and has no effect on the annual financials.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    Suzanne Lainson (profile), 3 Jan 2013 @ 9:28pm

    Google and its Washington strategy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    Ninja (profile), 4 Jan 2013 @ 3:39am

    Well, I'm not a Google fanboy but I do like their services. I also disagree with the direction the company took lately with the closure of the labs section (heck I used everything they put there) and the lack of customer support.

    They do offer an overall better experience.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Jan 2013 @ 11:11am

    Re: Re: There he goes again...


    That's amazing. The point going over your head sounds just like an out of tune sarcasm-meter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Frac, 6 Jan 2013 @ 4:06am

    Crushing win!!

    If I was a shareholder, I'd want to know where the value lies in their acquisition of Motorola. $12B? The FTC just reduced that value by about $10B.
    So despite the wealth of SEPs owned by Moto, their actual value is now likely a few cents rather than 2.25% claimed against the total device value. I would say that was a crushing defeat.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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