Google Fans, Foes Weigh In on FTC Decision

Groups Find Clouds, Silver Linings 1/03/2013 12:28 PM Eastern
Reaction was swift, and mixed, to the Federal Trade Commission's settlement with Google over allegations of anticompetitive conduct.

That "mixed" reaction even extended to two different groups, both of which claim Microsoft among its membership.

Ed Black, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, whose members include Google and Google critic and search competitor Microsoft, called the FTC's decision not to proceed with a case against Google for anticompetitive search allegations "the right call."

"As this investigation illustrates, the market for answering consumers' questions is dynamic and changing rapidly," Black said in a statement. "Traditional search engines are just one part of this expanding ecosystem.  Locking Google or any company into a 1998 version of Web search would have harmed users and sent the wrong signal to companies looking to evolve their business models to effectively compete in the rapidly evolving Internet marketplace."

But Black also found cause for concern, specifically Google's voluntary commitment to allow entities to opt out of its specialized results pages, which he sees as a potential threat to fair use rights. "I understand why Google, which has been offering websites an opt-out provision for some time now, was willing to offer additional opt-outs for its specialized results pages, but we do not believe the company was under any legal obligation to do so. Other companies should not interpret this agreement as diminishing their fair use rights in any way," he said.

The Progressive Policy Institute also saw the FTC decision as the right one. "The FTC has shown how regulators can be innovation-friendly," said PPI chief economic strategist Michael Mandel in a statement. "Given the importance of innovation for American job growth and competitiveness, the FTC is setting a great example for other agencies.", whose members include Google search competitors Expedia, Hotwire, Kayak -- and Microsoft -- called the FTC decision "disappointing and premature, coming just weeks before the company is expected to make a formal and detailed proposal to resolve the four abuses of dominance identified by the European Commission, first among them biased display of its own properties in search results."

According to a source on background, Microsoft was planning to weigh in on its own blog, likely making clear it came down on the "disappointed" side of the ledger.

The American Antitrust Institute had taken no position on the investigation because it could not reach a consensus on what law Google had violated or what remedy would be effective.

The FTC closed its search investigation into Google without a finding that it represented actionable anticompetitive conduct, but Google separate volunteered changes to its search business that are binding and enforceable.

"The issues relating to search manipulation allegations are complex, not only with respect to pinning down a theory of antitrust liability but also with respect to determining an effective remedy once liability has been determined," AAI said in a statement. "While we would have preferred to see a consent order that binds Google, it is nevertheless significant that Google has made commitments that deal with many of the most important allegations. We believe the result will be more transparency for the user, more flexibility for advertisers to leave Google, and fewer complaints about screen scraping. The FTC must monitor on-going activities to ensure that these commitments are adequate."

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