Google dodged a bullet today. For 19 months, the Federal Trade Commission has been considering whether the Internet search giant had rigged search results in a way that stifled competition. But today, the anti-trust regulators said they didn’t find evidence to justify legal action.
Still, the FTC did impose some changes.
In the past, Google sought injunctions to block competitors from licensing its patents for rival devices, like the Apple iPad and iPhone.
“Consumers were faced with a situation where they’d either be getting higher prices for their products or possibly not even able to buy the products at all because those products would be excluded from the market,” says Pete Levitas, who's with the FTC’s Bureau of Competition.
Google has agreed to allow other companies to license patents that are essential for rival products.
“Consumers are going to see better products, cheaper products, and more innovative products,” says Levitas.
Google also agreed to remove restrictions on ad data, which should allow companies to improve their advertising campaigns.
But, the bigger issue was the claim by competitors that Google’s search results were biased in favor of its own products.
“This is a big win for Google,” says Casey Newton, a senior writer at CNET. “The changes that you’re going to see Google make as a result of this very long, very costly investigation are quite minor.”
Google argued that it was not blocking competition. After all, consumers had a choice. They could go to another search engine, like Bing. And the FTC agreed.
“I don’t really see the landmark here,” says Newton. “This looks like a real slap on the wrist. So you’re going to see a lot of disappointed companies out there today that were hoping that the FTC would do more to promote competition.”
Google isn’t one of those disappointed companies.
“The FTC should be commended,” says Susan Creighton, a lawyer representing Google. “When you’re a law enforcement agency, you’re obligation is to be investigating thoroughly. But when you find that there’s no wrong-doing, the right thing to do is to close the investigation.”
She called the FTC’s decision “a vindication.”