FTC to resolve Google antitrust inquiry by year-end

September 19, 2012
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    It seems Google is not off the hook in the Federal Trade Commission’s investigation into whether the company violated antitrust laws in prioritizing its own services in search results. The FTC intends to decide by year-end whether it will pursue legal action against Google for anti-competitive practices.

    In a luncheon address at the Georgetown Law School, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said the commission has not yet reached a decision, although it plans to “get this resolved by the end of the year.”

    He stressed that the commission is weighing the evidence as a body.

    We have not decided as a commission what we’re going to do, where we’re going to go with respect to Google. We’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing – we’re weighing the evidence, we’re thinking it through, in a collective, collaborative bipartisan way.

    Google’s rivals have accused the company of steering search users away from their websites into Google’s own products that offer similar services. Google has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, saying that any change it does to its search algorithm is only intended to provide a better consumer experience and not to improve its market share. However, the FTC wants to look into these claims, in particular whether the algorithm does, indeed, prioritize Google services in an arbitrary way.

    Leibowitz also highlighted that the FTC’s investigation and decision process should take a shorter time than federal litigation. “[O]ur rules of administrative litigation will ensure Google a trial within eight months, much faster than in the federal district courts,” he said.

    Meanwhile, in an emailed statement to Reuters, Google spokesman Adam Kovacevich says the company will be happy to give the FTC and explanation. “We are happy to explain our business to regulators and answer any questions they may have.”

    Google has always been secretive of its search algorithm, and has been critical of practices that attempt to excessively optimize websites with the intent of gaming the system. However, if Google were found to be tweaking its own algorithm for its own advantage, then that would be deemed anti-competitive, and Google may be violating its own policy against bad SEO.

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