Thursday, January 3, 2013

Google and FTC settle: agreement ends search bias charges while requiring little from Google

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Google today reached an agreement that the parties say will resolve certain concerns over competitiveness, but without forcing Google to change its search activities.

The agreement will likely be seen as a victory for Google as the search giant will not have to face charges of bias in its search results, results that some said were skewed to favor Google-owned properties at the expense of competitors.

Under the agreement, according to the FTC, Google will allow competitors access to certain patents "on critical standardized technologies needed to make popular devices such as smart phones, laptop and tablet computers, and gaming consoles."

"The changes Google has agreed to make will ensure that consumers continue to reap the benefits of competition in the online marketplace and in the market for innovative wireless devices they enjoy,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in the agency's statement.

We are especially glad to see that Google will live up to its commitments to license its standard-essential patents, which will ensure that companies willing to license these patents can compete in the market for wireless devices,” Leibowitz added. “This decision strengthens the standard-setting process that is at the heart of innovation in today’s technology markets.”

In a statement issued by Google the company claimed victory but also said it would make certain commitments to the FTC.

"Google is confident that our practices are entirely consistent with all applicable laws and regulations," Google's statement read. But the company will commit to two actions: making available a web-based notice form for website owners to opt out from display of their content on Google's Covered Webpages; and revising its AdWords API language.

"We’ve always accepted that with success comes regulatory scrutiny," David Drummond, Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer wrote in a Google blog post. "But we’re pleased that the FTC and the other authorities that have looked at Google's business practices—including the U.S. Department of Justice (in its ITA Software review), the U.S. courts (in the SearchKing and Kinderstart cases), and the Brazilian courts (in a case last year)—have concluded that we should be free to combine direct answers with web results."