Google's Antitrust Dance with the FTC: Analysts Weigh In

Google might have been heading on a lenient path with the FTC’s antitrust investigation, but critics may be getting the agency to be more aggressive.

Google seemed to be heading to a relatively painless antitrust decision from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in recent months, one that wouldn't have hit the search giant's search engine practices with a big stick.

But that's been changing lately as critics have been letting the FTC know that a more serious approach should be considered, especially in light of harsher consequences and actions being taken by the European Union in connection with antitrust complaints there against Google.

Such criticisms are the thrust of the FTC's about-face in how it was approaching Google, according to a Dec. 20 story from Politico.

"European regulators appear headed toward a dramatically different conclusion to their antitrust probe of Google than their American counterparts—a binding agreement that could cost the search company dearly if violated," according to Politico. "That's one of several reasons why the expected Federal Trade Commission settlement that sources said was a done deal unraveled Tuesday."

Neither agency "was ever expected to formally label Google a monopoly or a violator of antitrust laws, but all signs pointed to the FTC concluding its case with voluntary concessions while the EU would extract a binding agreement that could significantly alter how the search engine operates there," the story reported.

Rumors have been circulating for months that the FTC would announce a decision in the case by the end of this year, but that was scuttled Dec. 19 when unnamed sources revealed that a decision in the matter won't come until sometime in 2013.

Several IT analysts who spoke with eWEEK said they aren't surprised that the FTC might be taking a harsher approach in its reviews of Google and its behavior in the world of search.

"The FTC would look foolish giving Google a tickle if the EU puts real meat on the bone," Steve Duplessie, founder of Enterprise Strategy Group, wrote in an email response. "The problem is that like all 'new' effective monopolies—which, let's face it—we all strive to become, are difficult to regulate due to their very nature. These issues never existed before. It's logical that any company successful at changing the game the way that Google has will continue to push and push until it is stopped. "

On the other hand, wrote Duplessie, "I have no issue with Google in this regard—it’s in the DNA of all successful businesses that operate above board, albeit often at the fringes."

In the United States, companies like Google have an easier time pushing their own agendas, he said, because "our very system is built to support the business versus the people. It's only when the business crosses a line so egregiously, and many times not even after that (again, look at the banking fiasco—nothing of substance has changed at all from a regulatory perspective) that our regulators ever really act in the best interest of the people versus the business."