Google must be feeling lucky: It ducks U.S. antitrust suit with FTC settlement

Google has avoided a potentially long and painful antitrust lawsuit, settling with the Federal Trade Commission in a deal announced today. The big win among the wrongdoings the company was accused of: The FTC said it found no evidence that the Silicon Valley search giant unfairly favors its own services in search rankings.

The settlement, after an “exhaustive,” nearly two-year-long investigation the FTC has now closed, ensures that “competition continues to work for the benefit of American consumers,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said during the announcement, which was broadcast online Thursday morning.

As 2012 came to a close, there were reports the FTC was leaning toward a settlement. Google was also facing an antitrust investigation in Europe, where it is accused of monopolistic behavior and has already had to agree to make changes.

The settlement with the FTC includes the following concessions from the Mountain View company regarding its other practices:

• Scraping: Google agrees not to take competitors’ content, such as online reviews, and use it to “improve it own vertical search offerings.” (Think Yelp, which has complained about Google. See Schmidt, Google rivals testify today.)

• Patents: It promises to allow competitors access to standards-essential patents it owns — the bulk of which came from its more than $12 billion purchase of Motorola Mobility — by agreeing to refrain from seeking related injunctions.

• Online ads: Google agrees to allow advertisers to use its AdWords platform without making it hard for them to use rival ad platforms at the same time.

Surely the company’s competitors aren’t happy. For example, Microsoft — no stranger to antitrust action — has long been vocal, in the United States and in Europe, about its displeasure over what it says is Google’s abuse of its dominance in search, online video and smartphones, all areas of competition between the two companies. (See Microsoft joins the pile as Google hits keep coming.)  And some of the complainants in Europe were said to have ties to Microsoft. (See Google and the law: It’s either too controlling or not enough.) Wednesday, Microsoft deputy general counsel Dave Heiner reportedly wrote in a blog post, “hopefully, Google will wake up to a new year with a resolution to change its ways and start to conform with the antitrust laws.”


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