The Federal Trade Commission announced the results of its investigation into whether Google violated antitrust laws with its current business practices today.
In a 4-1 decision, the FTC found that Google wasn’t guilty of violating antitrust laws related to how it displays search engine results. At the same time, Google offered to change many of its business practices to appease the commission. For instance, Google can no longer scrape data from competing services (like review sites) within its search results. It also must offer local and privately owned businesses an option to opt out from its location-based services (like Google Places) and prevent outsiders from manipulating search results to gain an advantage.
The FTC first started investigating Google’s search practices 19 months ago, prompted by competitors that claimed that Google was making its own services more prominent and hindering true competition. For example, last year review site Yelp pointed out that Google was unfairly scraping Yelp’s user-generated reviews without giving proper attribution.
During a press conference announcing results of the probe, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said all of the changes that Google agreed to make to its search practices are legally enforceable — meaning that if Google fails to uphold its end of the bargain, the FTC can take action against them in the form of hefty fines. That said, there were questions about how the FTC was able to monitor search manipulation since Google isn’t making its search data available to the commission.
The commission, however, did find that Google was misusing patents that it got as a result of its purchase of its sale to Motorola. The FTC’s decision will force Google to license the patents, many of which are crucial to mobile devices, to other companies.