By Michael Malpass
The Federal Trade Commission announced on Jan. 3, after nineteen months of investigation, that Google’s search engine did not put the company in violation of antitrust or anti-competition laws. Competitors such as Microsoft and Yahoo complained that Google’s search results unfairly favored the company’s own products and services by putting them higher up in the order of search results. The FTC decided that while Google did rank its products and services higher in search results, it was motivated by a desire to improve its user experience.
The FTC’s decision to drop its investigation further bolsters Google’s already dominant position on the Internet. According to the Wall Street Journal, Google handles over two thirds of all Web searches in the U.S. and has cornered around 75 percent of the search-advertising market. According to Bloomberg, Microsoft has around 9 percent, while Yahoo around 6 percent. As a result of the FTC’s decision and Google’s still ascendant Internet presence, specialty searches on Google – such as travel or shopping searches – will continue to yield Google’s own services at the top of the page.
Fairsearch.org, a group of Google competitors including Microsoft, was not pleased with the decision and vowed that the war was not over. As the Wall Street Journal reported, Fairshare.org said that the “FTC’s inaction on the core question of search bias will only embolden Google to act more aggressively to misuse its monopoly power to harm other innovators.” A Yelp spokesman said that the FTC’s decision “represents a deeply disappointing missed opportunity to protect innovation in the Internet economy, and the consumers and businesses that rely upon it.” Google did agree to make some small changes to its search engine. For example, it will allow websites to remove content from Google’s specialized sites, like its Google+ business listings and Google News, and still be searchable through Google’s main search engine. However, according to the New York Times, while the FTC can enforce these commitments if they are violated, it did not require a formal consent decree or litigation. Microsoft Deputy General Counsel Dave Heiner said that “[t]he FTC’s overall resolution of this matter is weak and – frankly – unusual,” since securing binding commitments in antitrust investigations is typical procedure for the FTC.