FTC: We didn’t let Google get away with anything

The Federal Trade Commission is defending its decision not to bring antitrust charges against Google in 2013 after a couple of recent reports brought fresh questions.

The Wall Street Journal last week published an article based on inadvertently released documents that showed some FTC staffers had recommended bringing a lawsuit against Google. And a Wall Street Journal article this week implied that Google’s close ties with the White House and Washington may have influenced the FTC decision.

In a statement released Wednesday, the commission said it “conducted an exhaustive investigation of Google’s internet search practices during 2011 and 2012. Based on a comprehensive review of the voluminous record and extensive internal analysis, of which the inadvertently disclosed memo is only a fraction, all five Commissioners (three Democrats and two Republicans) agreed that there was no legal basis for action with respect to the main focus of the investigation – search.”

In addition, the FTC said, “contrary to recent press reports, the Commission’s decision on the search allegations was in accord with the recommendations of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, Bureau of Economics, and Office of General Counsel.”

The documents released to the Journal by mistake showed that FTC staff found that: Google had engaged in scraping, or copying content from rivals to improve its own search results; Google had restricted the ability of advertisers to run campaigns on rival search engines; and Google restricted websites that publish its search results from making deals with other search engines. In its statement, the FTC points out that Google addressed these concerns by agreeing to change certain behaviors, and that the Internet company “has abided by those commitments.”

As for the company’s ties with the White House — the Journal did the math and concluded that representatives of Google have made an average one visit a week to the White House during the Obama administration — the FTC says the article makes “misleading inferences and suggestions about the integrity of the FTC’s investigation. The article suggests that a series of disparate and unrelated meetings involving FTC officials and executive branch officials or Google representatives somehow affected the Commission’s decision to close the search investigation in early 2013. Not a single fact is offered to substantiate this misleading narrative.”

Among other things, the Journal noted that Google CEO Larry Page met with the FTC and Chairman Eric Schmidt met with Pete Rouse, a senior adviser to President Obama, in late 2012. Representatives for both the White House and the FTC stressed to the Journal that the commission is an independent agency.

Our Michelle Quinn wrote last week that not only did the first Journal article spur questions about Google and its motivations, it also “raises concerns over the ability of the FTC to protect consumers.”

In its statement, the FTC set forth an example of what it’s done to protect consumers: “In fact, on the same day that it closed the search investigation, the Commission settled a complaint alleging that Google’s conduct with regard to certain standard essential patents constituted unfair methods of competition under the FTC Act.”

 

Photo from AFP/Getty Images

 

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