Google free to extend web search lead as U.S. FTC ends probe

‘Bad Precedent’

FTC Commissioner Tom Rosch, a Republican, said that while he believed Google’s conduct in search didn’t warrant action, the agreement the agency accepted “creates very bad precedent and may lead to the impression that well-heeled firms such as Google will receive special treatment at the commission.”

“Instead of following standard commission procedure and entering into a binding consent agreement to resolve the majority’s concerns, Google has instead made non-binding commitments with respect to its search practices,” said Rosch, who steps down today. “After promising an elephant more than a year ago, the commission instead has brought forth a couple of mice.”

The FTC announcement is “maintaining the status quo,” Danny Sullivan, founder of the industry blog Search Engine Land, said in an interview. “I doubt it will result in any significant change in how consumers interact with search engines or to the market share of respective competitors.”

European Regulators

It’s now up to European antitrust regulators to determine whether any restrictions should be placed on Google’s search practices, said William Kovacic, a former FTC commissioner and chairman and a professor of law at George Washington University.

Google has agreed to offer the European Union detailed commitments on how it would resolve regulators’ concerns, including how Google’s own services are promoted above those of rivals and how it uses and displays other content on search services.

“The European framework is more amenable to enforcement than the U.S. one is,” Kovacic said. “That gives the Europeans a bigger margin to demand concessions.”

Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy group, pressed the U.S. Justice Department and state attorneys general to investigate Google’s “monopolistic behavior in search results” in the wake of the FTC announcement.

“The FTC rolled over for Google,” John Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog’s privacy project, said in an e-mail.

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