In a major victory for Google Inc., US regulators ended their investigation into the giant internet company and concluded that it had not manipulated its Web search results to hurt rivals. But a parallel probe being conducted by the European Union continues.
The US Federal Trade Commission did, however, win promises from Google that it would end the practice of "scraping" reviews and other data from rivals' websites for its own products, and to allow advertisers to export data to independently evaluate advertising campaigns.
Google also agreed to no longer request sales bans when suing companies which infringe on patents that are essential to ensuring interoperability, also known as standard essential patents, the FTC said on Thursday (3 January).
Microsoft Corp. and other Google competitors have pressed the FTC to bring a broad antitrust case against Google similar to the sweeping Justice Department litigation against Microsoft in the 1990s.
The European Commission is conducting a parallel probe of Google. It announced on 18 December that it was giving the company a month to come up with proposals to resolve its probe.
The European Commission has been examining informal settlement proposals from Google since July but has not sought feedback from the complainants, suggesting it is not convinced by what Google has put on the table so far.
Asked today (4 December) to comment, a Commission spokesperson said the EU executive had nothing to comment on the US probe and that its investigation was following its own course.
Meanwhile smaller Internet companies such as Nextag have complained about Google tweaking its Web search results to give prominence to its own products, pushing down competitors' rankings and making them more difficult for customers to find.
At a press conference in Washington, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz anticipated criticism of the agency's decision to not further pursue Google on the so-called subject of search bias.
"Even though people would like us to bring a big search bias case, the facts aren't there," he said.
"The changes Google have agreed to make ensure that consumers continue to reap the benefits of competition in the online marketplace and in the market for innovative wireless devices they enjoy," said Leibowitz.
The commission voted 4 to 1 to settle the patent investigation into Google's injunction requests. It voted 5 to 0 to end the probe of Google's search practices.
Google’s is embroiled in two key disputes with the European Commission.
This followed EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding's publication in March 2011 of new privacy rules for personal data held on the Internet, including a "right to be forgotten" that would allow users to permanently delete data held by companies.
In November 2010, the Commission launched an antitrust investigation into allegations that Google had abused a dominant market position in the internet search market.
The probe followed a complaint by Google’s rival Microsoft, and remains subject to negotiation between the Commission and the search giant.
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