As speculated earlier this week, Google has officially managed to escape a nearly two-year U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigation without paying any fines.
Instead of paying fines, the FTC made Google promise that it would stop scraping reviews and information from other websites, stop requesting sales bans when suing companies for patent infringement and allow advertisers to export data in order to evaluate advertising campaigns.
The decision to not fine Google after such a long investigation surprised many rival companies, but FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz said it was in the best interest of all involved.
"Even though people would like us to bring a big search bias case, the facts aren't there," said Leibowitz. "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."
The competition doesn't seem to agree with Leibowitz. Companies like Yelp, Nextag and Microsoft have complained that the FTC is basically letting Google get away with its practices, and by simply receiving promises, Google has greater flexibility to make any changes on its own terms and pace.
"The closure of the commission's investigation into search bias by Google without action ... represents a missed opportunity to protect innovation in the Internet economy," wrote Yelp spokesman Vince Sollitto in an email. "We look for the regulatory bodies continuing their investigation to have greater success."
Just yesterday, Dave Heiner, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel of Microsoft, wrote a post about the fact that the FTC is not doing enough to force Google to conform with antitrust laws. More specifically, Microsoft is upset that Windows Phone still cannot get a full YouTube app while the competition (Android and iOS) are able.
Today, Heiner wrote yet another post in response to the FTC's decision. He called the resolution "weak" and addressed Microsoft's main issues with Google, such as the fact that Google doesn't offer data portability to advertisers so that they can use data on other platforms (like Bing) other than just Google's; the fact that Google promotes its own services in search results; Google's abuse of standard essential patents, and again, Google's failure to offer Windows Phone a full-featured YouTube app.
"The FTC took steps today to address some of Google’s improper business practices," said Heiner. "We find it troubling that the agency did not adhere to its own standard procedures that call for the agency to obtain industry input on proposed relief and secure it through an enforceable consent decree. The FTC’s overall resolution of this matter is weak and—frankly—unusual. We are concerned that the FTC may not have obtained adequate relief even on the few subjects that Google has agreed to address.
"There appears to be no reason, despite the FTC’s optimistic statements this morning, to believe that Google recognizes its responsibilities as an industry leader. That is certainly consistent with the lack of change we continue to witness as we and so many others experience ongoing harm to competition in the marketplace.
"The good news is that other antitrust agencies, within the United States and overseas, are still examining Google’s conduct. In Europe Vice President Almunia has made clear that he will close his investigation of Google only with a formal, binding order that addresses search bias and other issues. We remain hopeful that these agencies will stick to their established procedures, ensure transparency, and obtain the additional relief needed to address the serious competition law concerns that remain."
Despite the criticism, the FTC stands by its decision and insists that the investigation required nothing further.
"This was an incredibly thorough and careful investigation by the commission, and the outcome is a strong and enforceable set of agreements," said Leibowitz.