FTC: Google Demoting Rankings of Competing Vertical Websites is Justifiable

google-good-evilToday the U.S. Federal Trade Commission closed the books on its 19-month investigation into Google’s business practices.

On the question of search bias and Google promoting its own vertical properties within its search results more prominently than competitors, Google came through unscathed.

The FTC concluded:

“…we find that the evidence presented at this time does not support the allegation that Google’s display of its own vertical content at or near the top of its search results page was a product design change undertaken without a legitimate business justification. Rather, we conclude that Google’s display of its own content could plausibly be viewed as an improvement in the overall quality of Google’s search product.”

As for allegations that Google manipulates its search algorithms to harm competing vertical websites, the FTC said there was insufficient evidence, noting that universal search type results can “plausibly be viewed as an improvement in the overall quality of Google’s search results.”

In conjunction with the announcement of the FTC’s findings, David Drummond, Google’s Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer, via a blog post, announced two product changes:

  • Websites can opt out of having their content (e.g., reviews) appear on Google Shopping, Flights, Hotel, Advisor, and Google+ Local.
  • Advertisers can more easily use AdWords campaign data in rival third-party ad platforms via the AdWords API.

This outcome isn’t exactly surprising. In late November, we reported that the FTC was considering dropping the antitrust case because it couldn’t find evidence of consumer harm.

One other area of Google’s business practices under review by the FTC was Google’s use of patents. Google allegedly “reneged on its FRAND [fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory] commitments and pursued – or threatened to pursue – injunctions against companies that need to use [Motorola Mobility’s] standard-essential patents in their devices and were willing to license them on FRAND terms.”

As a result, the FTC announced that “Google has agreed to a Consent Order that prohibits it from seeking injunctions against a willing licensee, either in federal court or at the ITC, to block the use of any standard-essential patents that the company has previously committed to license on FRAND terms.”

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