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FTC Finally Closes Google Investigations

Tech giant agrees to change some business practices

Ending weeks of speculation and rumor, the Federal Trade Commission today finally closed its nearly two-year antitrust investigation into Google that will no doubt leave Google's competitors unsatisfied.

Under a consent order reached with the FTC, Google agreed it would not block its rivals from obtaining access to patents essential to key technologies. As part of the order, Google will not seek injunctions to block rivals from using those patents. For every violation of the order, Google would pay $16,000.

In a separate agreement, Google voluntarily agreed to remove restrictions that hampered advertisers' management of ad campaigns across competing ad platforms. Google will also give websites the ability to keep their content out of Google's vertical search offerings.

Much to the chagrin of Google rivals like Microsoft, the FTC unanimously concluded 5-0 it would not bring action against Google's search engine algorithm, despite allegations that Google manipulated the search results to favor its own services over its competitors.

"Google agreed to stop the most troubling of its business practices," said Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the FTC, during a press conference. "Many wanted us to regulate Google's search engine algorithm, but we didn't believe it supported an FTC challenge under law."

The search giant had been under investigation by the FTC and the European Union for nearly two years.  Anticipating the FTC's announcement, Google's competitors complained that it wouldn't be enough to stop the Google from abusing its market power.

"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," FairSearch.org, a coalition of 17 companies, including Microsoft, said in a statement responding to the FTC's announcement.

As if to answer those critics, FTC's Leibowitz said that the FTC's settlement to resolve competitive concerns "offers more relief for consumers faster than any other option."

Antitrust experts said the FTC did the right thing in not trying to regulate search engines. "Today the FTC made it clear that the best way for it to protect consumers was to do nothing. It's difficult for regulators to reach that conclusion," said Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University School of Law and director of the school's High Tech Law Institute. 

In a blog post, Google said it was pleased. "The conclusion is clear: Google's services are good for users and good for competition ... . We've always accepted that with success comes regulatory scrutiny," wrote David Drummond, senior vp and chief legal officer for Google. 

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