FTC: Google isn't a monopoly, it's just big-boned

Google wins latest legal bout with the feds, but every tech monolith eventually crumbles, often sooner than expected

This just in: The FTC has decided Google isn't really evil after all, concluding its 19-month antitrust investigation with a gentle, loving slap on the wrist. That makes some folks happy and others hopping mad. Surprised?

In a nutshell, the feds decided Google wasn't using its market muscle to promote its own stuff above those of competing search services, despite the fact that Google did quite literally place its own stuff above competitors in its search results.

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According to the FTC report:

A key issue for the Commission was to determine whether Google changes its search results primarily to exclude actual or potential competitors... or to improve the quality of its search product and the overall user experience. The Commission [concluded] Google adopted the design changes... to improve the quality of its search results, and that any negative impact on actual or potential competitors was incidental to that purpose.

Translation: Google really did have our best interests at heart; screwing over Bing and friends was just gravy.

Enhanced translation: The FTC (and by extension the DOJ) did not have the stomach for a protracted, enormously expensive antitrust battle whose conclusion was far from a certainty, so it decided to cut a deal.

In exchange for clearing Google of alleged search bias, the feds got a few items in return. It persuaded Google to not use its trove of Motorola patents to go medieval on the assets of makers of laptops, smartphones, and tablets that rely on standardized technologies invented by Moto Mobility, though it could continue to charge license fees for them. The G-men also agreed to make it easier for advertisers to use both its AdWords program and rival ad platforms, and it vowed to stop scraping content from vertical search sites like Yelp in order to "improve" its search results.

Was this a win-win for everyone or did we all just get rogered? That depends entirely on whom you ask and where they're sitting.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute, which hates anything that smacks of government regulation and would probably get rid of stop signs if it could, praised the deal. Ryan Radia, the CEI's associate director of technology studies, says:

The FTC's unanimous decision not to pursue an antitrust lawsuit against Google reflects the vigorous state of competition on the Internet -- and the utter failure of Google's critics to put forward a serious antitrust case against the company.

Consumer Watchdog, a group that hates Google with such a passion that it would continue to do so even if Google gave every homeless person on the planet $100,000 cash and a puppy, condemned it. Per John M. Simpson, director of the group's Privacy Project:

The FTC rolled over for Google. They've accepted Google executives' promises that they will change two practices without even requiring a consent agreement, but Google has a track record of broken promises. Don't forget, this fall the FTC fined Google $22.5 million for violating its most recent consent agreement. Why would the FTC take Google at its word?

Hey look -- I just "improved" my blog results by scraping content from other sources. Maybe the FTC will come after me next.

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