Google victory in search bias investigation

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IN a major victory for Google, US regulators have ended their investigation into the internet giant, concluding that the company had not manipulated its web search results to hurt rivals.

The Federal Trade Commission did, however, win promises from Google that it would end the practice of “scraping” reviews and other data from rivals’ websites for its own products, and to allow advertisers to export data to independently evaluate advertising campaigns.

Google also agreed to no longer request sales bans when suing companies which infringe on patents.

Microsoft and other Google competitors have pressed the commission to bring a broad antitrust case against Google similar to the sweeping Justice Department litigation against Microsoft in the 1990s.

Meanwhile, smaller internet companies have complained about Google tweaking its web search results to give prominence to its own products, pushing down competitors’ rankings and making them more difficult for customers to find.

Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the commission, anticipated criticism of the agency’s decision to not further pursue Google on the so-called subject of search bias.

“Even though people would like us to bring a big search bias case, the facts aren’t there,” he said.

“The changes Google have agreed to make ensure that consumers continue to reap the benefits of competition in the online marketplace and in the market for innovative wireless devices they enjoy.”

An analyst at Gartner said: “I never saw any real likelihood that the feds were going to insert themselves between one of the most popular brands in the world and the constituency that adores it.”

The social networking and review website yelp.com had complained about scraped reviews and said it was disappointed with the result of the probe.

A Yelp spokesman described the closure of the commission’s investigation into search bias by Google without action as “a missed opportunity to protect innovation in the internet economy”.

He added: “We look for the regulatory bodies continuing their investigation to have greater success.”

The European Union is conducting a parallel probe of Google. It announced on December 18 that it was giving the company a month to come up with proposals to resolve its probe.

The European Commission has been examining informal settlement proposals from Google since July but has not sought feedback from the complainants, suggesting it is not convinced by what Google has put on the table so far.

Google had £2.5bn worth of sales in the UK last year.