Skip to Content

Google Gets A Pass in U.S. Antitrust Investigation

The Federal Trade Commission says the search giant does not illegally stifle competition after a nearly two-year inquiry.
January 3, 2013

Google, the company synonymous with search, came to a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission today in a high-profile antitrust case that involved 9 million pages of testimony. The decision is an important victory for Google, even though it agreed to some concessions that would give competitors access to key mobile patents and make it easier for advertisers to use rival search engines. 

One big question was whether the company unfairly stifles competition by favoring its own search “verticals,” such as shopping, local or travel, or demoting the rankings of rival services in its search results.

The FTC decided that there wasn’t enough evidence to justify legal action. “Undoubtedly, Google took aggressive actions to gain advantage over rival search providers. However, the FTC’s mission is to protect competition, and not individual competitors,” said the FTC’s outside counsel Beth Wilkinson.

The FTC’s decision seems fairly conclusive. According to the Wall Street Journal, Google will continue to allow companies like Yelp to opt-out of having their pages “scraped,” a practice that allows snippets of text to appear in Google products like Maps. And it has promised it won’t demote search results of companies that opt-out. It’s fairly concerning, however, that the FTC is going to trust Google to maintain neutrality going forward, and doesn’t plan to monitor its search algorithm for bias. 

Micorosoft, Expedia, and other Google competitors, grouped together as coalition called FairSearch.org, believe, unsuprisingly, that the FTC rushed its decision. The claim has merit, since the European Commission is still separately negotiating with Google over a similar set of issues. In Europe, however, the antitrust stakes are higher. There, Google dominates about 90 percent of the search market, unlike in the U.S., where Yahoo and Microsoft’s Bing together have about a 40 percent market share. 

 The FairSearch group writes:  

A key question for the FTC is whether it has all the relevant information in hand when it makes its enforcement decision…FairSearch remains convinced that US consumers and innovators deserve the same protections that the European Commission may adopt in Europe.  

It’s also notable that the FTC’s investigation took almost two years. As Forbes contributor Eric Goldman points out, that is too long to match the rapid pace of technology development on the Web.  

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Muhammad bin Salman funds anti-aging research
Muhammad bin Salman funds anti-aging research

Saudi Arabia plans to spend $1 billion a year discovering treatments to slow aging

The oil kingdom fears that its population is aging at an accelerated rate and hopes to test drugs to reverse the problem. First up might be the diabetes drug metformin.

Yann LeCun
Yann LeCun

Yann LeCun has a bold new vision for the future of AI

One of the godfathers of deep learning pulls together old ideas to sketch out a fresh path for AI, but raises as many questions as he answers.

images created by Google Imagen
images created by Google Imagen

The dark secret behind those cute AI-generated animal images

Google Brain has revealed its own image-making AI, called Imagen. But don't expect to see anything that isn't wholesome.

Europe's AI Act concept
Europe's AI Act concept

A quick guide to the most important AI law you’ve never heard of

The European Union is planning new legislation aimed at curbing the worst harms associated with artificial intelligence.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.