Google FTC Decision Inspires Lawmaker to Seek Probe Into News Leaks

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2013-01-08 Print this article Print

The multiple news leaks that occurred during the Google FTC proceedings should not have happened, says U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa.

Among the key parts of the FTC agreement with Google is that the search company voluntarily will end some past business practices that could stifle competition in the markets for popular devices such as smartphones, tablets and gaming consoles, as well as the market for online search advertising, according to the agency. Under a binding settlement with the FTC, Google will allow competitors access "on fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory terms to patents on critical standardized technologies needed to make popular devices such as smartphones, laptop and tablet computers, and gaming consoles," the FTC reported.

As part of that agreement, Google will not seek court injunctions to block competitors from using Google-owned patents that are essential to key technologies used in products developed and sold by competitors, according to the FTC. Many of those patents came from the company's acquisition of Motorola Mobility in May 2012 for more than $12 billion, which included a large patent portfolio for technologies related to mobile and other consumer and business devices.

Beyond those steps, however, Google escaped FTC enforcement scenarios when it came to one of the biggest parts of the agency's 19-month-long investigation into the company's conduct—the allegations by competitors that the company had manipulated its search algorithms to harm vertical Websites and unfairly promote its competing vertical properties.

Now Google will have to see what happens in Europe with similar antitrust cases against the company in the European Union, where harsher consequences and actions are being considered.

Google was first notified by the FTC of a "formal review" of its business practices in June 2011 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 Web services in search results on over theirs. They argued that this put them at a significant competitive disadvantage in the market.

The initial FTC review in 2011 began after the agency heard complaints from Microsoft, Expedia, TripAdvisor, Yelp and other Websites that Google promotes its 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.


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