Google close to settlement with FTC

A visitor uses a cell phone in front of the Google logo on September 26, 2012 at the official opening party of the Google offices in Berlin, Germany.

There are reports that a deal is close between Google and the Federal Trade Commission. The settlement would end a two-year investigation into whether Google has used its dominance of search to unfairly steer customers to other Google businesses.

More than two-thirds of all American searches go through Google, giving the company fearsome market power to drive users. Now that it’s also in the restaurant review and travel business, companies like Yelp and TripAdvisor worry about that power.

Whatever an ultimate settlement may be, Google watchers and antitrust experts doubt it will have much impact noticeable by the users who do more than 11 billion Google searches a month.

“It probably won’t make that much of a difference,” says Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land, a website that covers the search engine industry.

Vanderbilt University business professor Luke Froeb, a former FTC chief economist, agrees. He also doesn’t think terms of a deal will have much of an impact on Google’s business.

“I can’t believe that Google would accept a remedy that would slow things down or not get consumers what they wanted,” Froeb says.

Likely in the settlement: Google will limit how it uses information from rival websites in its own pages. It’ll also make it easier for advertisers to transfer their Google ads to other sites. Unlikely in the settlement: anything that’ll make a major dent in Google’s dominance of search.

About the author

Mark Garrison is a reporter and substitute host for Marketplace, based in New York.

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