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Google is cleared of search result bias

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the United States has cleared Internet giant Google of search result bias after a two-year investigation.

US regulators insisted Google agree to legally binding changes regarding the presentation of certain search results and the way in which it operated its search advertising, but has cleared Google of biased search results, which were alleged to have listed competitors further down the search results list.

Motorola Mobility (MMI), an equipment corporation owned by Google, was attacked by the FTC for allegedly attempting to block competition as well as extract large payments. This was considered as unfair conduct by the FTC and Google was guilty of this after buying the company in August last year.

“Years ago, Motorola promised to license those patents on fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms. Other companies took Motorola at its word. They invested billions. Motorola then changed the rules of the game – it sought injunctions and exclusion orders over those SEPs. Google inherited those and continued them,” said FTC director Jon Liebowitz.

He added: “We exhaustively investigated whether (Google) uses search bias to push its own products higher and rivals’ down the search results. But after nearly two years the commission has voted to close this investigation. Although some evidence suggested it was trying to remove competition, the primary reason was to improve user experience.”

One of the rivals who accused Google of promoting its own services (maps, videos etc) over other equal or better qualified rivals was Microsoft but the FTC commissioners disagreed with this.

Microsoft argues Google is acting as a monopoly because it apparently refuses to build a YouTube application for the Windows Phone software, but has done so for Apple’s iPhone. Microsoft could turn to the Department of Justice because it was prosecuted 15 years ago on monopoly charges.

“Hopefully, Google will wake up to a New Year with a resolution to change its ways and start to conform with the antitrust laws. If not, then 2013 hopefully will be the year when antitrust enforcers display the resolve that Google continues to lack,” said an angry Dave Heiner, Microsoft’s Deputy General Counsel.

The legally binding document as imposed by the FTC will stop Google from “scraping” content that belongs to other sites and presenting the content as its own results. The legalities will also let businesses and sites opt out of Google’s “vertical” search results such as Google Local without being listed further down. It was also alleged that Google was threatening to remove sites that opted out.

Liebowitz confirmed the approximately two year long investigation studied nine million pages of documents from Google as well as other parties. The investigation also listened to the sworn testimonies of Google executives.

In line with the FTC ruling, Google’s Chief Counsel, David Drummond said: “The conclusion is clear: Google’s services are good for users and good for competition. We head into 2013 excited about our ability to innovate the benefit of users everywhere.”

At present Google is engaging in talks with the European Commission’s antitrust watchdog regarding a similar investigation which started in November 2010. Google could face larger changes than what the US regulator has enforced.

Posted in: Internet

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