The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been investigating allegations that Google’s search results page unfairly promotes Google’s own services at the expense of rivals. However, unnamed sources are telling media outlets that some within the agency don’t believe it has enough evidence for an antitrust case.
Bloomberg’s Sara Forden and Jeff Bliss first broke the news, writing, “Google Inc. (GOOG) may skirt the most serious antitrust allegations under investigation by the U.S. as regulators waver on whether they can prove consumers are hurt by the way the company ranks its search results, three people familiar with the matter said. Federal Trade Commission officials are unsure they have enough evidence to sue Google successfully under antitrust laws for giving its own services top billing and pushing down the offerings of rivals, said the people, who asked for anonymity because the discussions aren’t public. Regulators are also looking at whether the ranking system’s benefits to consumers outweigh any harm suffered by rivals including NexTag Inc. and Kayak Software Corp. (KYAK), the people said.”
All Things D’s Liz Gannes explained, “The crucial issue right now is whether the FTC decides to legally challenge Google on ‘search manipulation’ — that is, whether Google manipulates its search rankings to give preference to its own sites, while also pushing down competitors’ rankings. But, according to people intimately involved in the case, the FTC is hesitating on whether it is willing to go to bat on that particular and critical point, as Google has persuasively argued to some of the FTC commissioners — specifically Tom Rosch — that search is shifting from delivering text links to other Web sites to delivering robust and helpful information on the spot.”
Gannes also quoted a source who said, “There’s a sense the FTC has been outmaneuvered by Google once again.”
CNET’s Stephen Shankland noted, “Legal observers expect FTC and EC action of some sort by the end of the year in the Google case, but it’s not clear yet whether that might be a settlement or more serious actions such as the FTC suing or the EC filing a statement of objections. Other subjects are involved besides search results — for example, difficulties in placing search ads at other sites besides Google and possibly Google’s terms for letting phone makers use the Android operating system — but those are peripheral compared to the search fairness issue.”
In a related story, PCWorld’s Grant Gross reported, “The U.S. Federal Trade Commission may be headed toward an ‘unwarranted’ power grab in its antitrust investigation of Google, two lawmakers from Silicon Valley have said. Various media reports have suggested the FTC may accuse Google of unfair or deceptive businesses in addition to traditional antitrust violations, but the additional charges would be an expanded role for the agency in antitrust cases, wrote Representatives Anna Eshoo and Zoe Lofgren, both California Democrats. ‘Such a massive expansion of FTC jurisdiction would be unwarranted, unwise, and likely have negative implications for our nation’s economy,’ the two wrote in a Monday letter to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.”