Google Antitrust Settlement With FTC Could Come Soon: Report

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2012-11-29 Print this article Print

But the potential deal doesn't target a key part of the government investigation—whether Google's actions harm competitors intentionally. 

Google was first notified of a "formal review" of its business practices in June 2011 by the FTC, after similar reviews began in Europe. At that time, the European Commission launched an investigation into the company's search practices after vertical search engines such as Foundem, and Microsoft's Ciao complained the company favored its own Web services in search results on over theirs. They argued that this put them at a significant competitive disadvantage in the market.

Google has faced similar accusations in the United States from Texas State Attorney General Gregg Abbott, who asked for reams of info on Google's ad pricing, shopping search and the ranking of Websites in search results and ad listings.

The initial FTC review in 2011 began after the agency heard complaints from Microsoft, Expedia, TripAdvisor, Yelp and other Websites that Google promotes its own Web services above those of competitors.

Google denied all such allegations at that time, noting that its search algorithms analyze Website quality and popularity based on links for placement as part of its PageRank system.

In July, Google reached a record $22.5 million settlement with the FTC to resolve charges that Google bypassed Apple Safari browser privacy settings that blocked cookies for their users. The settlement was criticized by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, an industry group, as "a dangerously overbroad precedent that will chill Internet innovation and hurt online startups," the Institute said in a statement at that time.

The FTC charged that for several months in 2011 and 2012, Google placed a certain advertising tracking cookie on the computers of Safari users who visited sites within Google's DoubleClick advertising network. It charged that Google placed the cookies on consumers' computers in many cases by circumventing the Safari browser's default cookie-blocking setting.

Placing the cookies on the computers of Safari browsers violated the terms of an October 2011 settlement between Google and the FTC over deceptive practices related to the launch of Google Buzz, the late unlamented original attempt by Google to compete with Facebook in the social media space. Google later abandoned Buzz and went to work on its successor, Google +, which launched in June 2011.

In April, the Federal Communications Commission fined Google $25,000 after finding the company "deliberately impeded and delayed" an investigation into how it collected data for Google Street View, a technology featured in Google Maps and Google Earth that provides a panoramic view from positions on streets across the world.


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