Thursday, January 03, 2013

FTC Ends Google Antitrust Review, Outcome Expected Later Today

Update: You can read the settlement terms in their entirety here. [FTC]

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) today announced it has closed its investigation into Google after an exhaustive 19-month review. The conclusion according to Google is clear: Google’s services are good for users and good for competition.

The Federal Trade Commission plans to announce the outcome of its of antitrust claims against Google at 1 p.m. Thursday, in a deal expected to require few meaningful changes to the business practices of the search giant., a coalition of companies pushing for tough antitrust action against Google, said on Wednesday that the FTC should have waited for later this month, when the company is expected to formally offer concessions to resolve a parallel investigation by the European Union.

“If the FTC fails to take decisive action to end Google’s anti-competitive practices, and locks itself out of any remedies to Google’s conduct that are offered in Europe later this month, the FTC will have acted prematurely and failed in its mission of protecting America’s consumers,” said the group, which includes several online travel companies, shopping sites and Microsoft, operator of the Bing search engine.

Details on the outcome will be posted as soon as they are available so stay tuned!

Update: The settlement is in and it isn't bad, but definitely not as good as Google had hoped. 

With regards to patents, the FTC has blocked Google from using its patents (namely those it acquired from Motorola) to attack competitors. Instead of entering an intellectual property war against, say, Apple, Google will have to license out some of these patents to willing buyers—and some "standard-essential" patents that are so fundamental that they're necessary to the existence of things like smartphones and tablets, will be available to rivals for free.

The FTC came down rather hard on Google over its behavior on the web mainly as it relates to search and its rankings: although the feds say Google is allowed to put its own stuff (i.e., Google Local) above competitors, it's barred from scraping the content of rivals to beef up its own services. What does that mean? Google can't rip Yelp reviews and pass them off as their own when you search for a new restaurant to check out. Rival companies can opt out of being scraped by Google, and Google can't threaten to demote their search results—an action FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz says amounted to "extortion."

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