A settlement between Google and the Federal Trade Commission on antitrust allegations could be approaching, but it might not include a key part of the U.S. government's concerns about Google's business practices, according to a report by The Washington Post.
What's potentially missing in the settlement is that it appears to not include discussions or language addressing one of the most serious charges against Google, that it "intentionally manipulates search results to harm competitors," the Post reported.
Instead, "the ongoing talks between Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz and top Google executives are focusing on less controversial issues, such as how the company uses patents and how it displays comments collected from other Internet services, said several people who were familiar with the talks and spoke on the condition of anonymity," the Post reported. "They said that although allegations of search bias could re-emerge should the talks collapse, they are not central to the discussions."
This potential situation has left competitors and observers of the proceedings visibly angry, the story said.
Attorney Gary Reback, who represents several companies that have complained about Google's practices in delivering search results, told the Post that any FTC settlement deal that doesn't tackle the issue would bring powerful opposition.
"The buzzards are circling for that, and there’s just going to be massive resistance if they try to do that," Reback told the Post. "If a settlement were to be proposed that didn't include search, the institutional integrity of the FTC would be at issue."
In October, a Reuters story reported on a very different result—that Google could be hit with an antitrust action by the FTC in connection with the ongoing antitrust concerns. An antitrust action would be far more serious but it could be avoided by any pending settlement.
In the October story, according to Reuters, four of the FTC's commissioners became "convinced after more than a year of investigation that Google illegally used its dominance of the search market to hurt its rivals," while one commissioner remained skeptical of that conclusion. "The majority of top decision makers at the FTC believe that an antitrust case should be brought against Google Inc., meaning the search giant could soon be headed into tough negotiations, three people familiar with the matter said."
A settlement would certainly be a huge change in direction for the FTC's investigation in comparison to an antitrust action.