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Google in the Clear

Google has won a major victory in its prolonged wrangle with US regulators regarding the fairness of its internet search results. However, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) did guarantee assurances from the internet giant that it would cease ‘scraping’ product reviews and other data from rivals’ websites to use as its own, and allow advertisers to evaluate advertising campaigns by exporting data that is held by them.

The 19-month investigation by the FTC has also seen Google agree to no longer request that companies withdraw their products from sale when suing them over standard essential patent disagreements.

Standard essential patents are used to patent items that are vital to industry standards – such as the technology that permits tablets and smart phones to use the internet via Wi-Fi.

Rivals will be disappointed by the FTC findings as they had hoped Google would face a broad antitrust case similar to the Justice Department lawsuit against Microsoft in the 1990’s.

Smaller internet companies will also be disheartened by the ruling after complaining that Google manipulates its results pages to give prominence to its own products ahead of their competitors’.

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz told a press conference why the agency would not pursue Google any further regarding the so-called result bias allegations:

“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,” said Leibowitz.

A statement released by Fairsearch, an organisation representing several of Google’s critics, read: “The FTC’s decision to close its investigation with only voluntary commitments from Google is disappointing and premature, coming just weeks before the company is expected to make a formal and detailed proposal to resolve the four abuses of dominance identified by the European Commission, first among them biased display of its own properties in search results.”

Despite the FTC ruling, Google is still under investigation by the European Union regarding anti-competitive practices and if found guilty could face a fine of £2.5bn.