Google Search FTC investigation marches on, ultimatum issued

November 12, 2012
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The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has two investigations opened on Google’s business practices. One of the concerns Google’s Search business, the company’s main revenue stream, and the other is related to Google’s use of standard-essential smartphone patents in legal battles against some of its main rivals.

A new Bloomberg report reveals that Google is now “being pressed” by the FCC’s Commission Chairman Jonathan Leibowitz to “offer to resolve the ageny’s investigation in the next few days, or face a lawsuit” regarding Google’s Search practices.

People familiar with the matter said that Google and the FTC have been in talks “for about two weeks,” with the Search giant not ready to “put any remedy proposals on the table.”

The FTC started an investigation back in April 2011 into Google’s Search business, looking at the way the company is listing its own products in search results compared to similar products from the competition:

FTC investigators have been probing Google for ranking its own services higher than those of competitors, for signing exclusive agreements to provide search services to online publishers and for making it difficult for advertisers to compare data about campaigns running on rival sites by Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO) and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT)’s Bing, people familiar with the investigation have said.

A staff memo sent to the agency’s commissioners last month includes a recommendation to issue a complaint for Google’s practice of using customer reviews from other websites including Yelp Inc. to flesh out its own services on local restaurants and other businesses, the people have said.

Now, the FTC can choose to file a complaint against Google either in its own administrative court, where things would move faster than in federal court, or in federal court. The FTC has not made up its mind yet, but the Commission should reach a conclusion by the end of the year. That means Google can still face a lawsuit in case it won’t be able to settle the matter with the Commission.

The Search probe is independent from the standard-essential patent investigation, which is important for the current lawsuit-filled mobile landscape, but there’s no news regarding the progress of this second FTC inquiry.

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