[Update] The FTC will delay its decision for weeks, after the European Union took a hard line with Google on Tuesday in a parallel investigation. EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said that after a meeting had with Eric Schmidt in Brussels, the Commission and Google reduced their differences:
“On the basis of the progress made, I now expect Google to come forward with a detailed commitment text in January 2013,” he said in a statement.
Jon Leibowitz wants the antitrust probe against Googler wrapped up
by the end of the year, according to unnamed sources cited by Reuters. The same report mentions that the FTC Chairman is expected to step down in the near future, although he did not officially announced his resignation. The two events are not related.
Google has been under FTC scrutiny in 2012, among others for accusations that the search engine favors its own services against competitors, ranking them higher in the SERPs. The debate concerns several industries, but it seems more focused on travel. Many have argued that by acquiring Frommers, Zagat, and ITA software, Google has now the potential (and intent) to deliver a travel service to consumers, not just search results. Some are afraid this is already happening.
“Google favors its own Google Local product in web search results, too. Rather than favoring them algorithmically, however, Google simply favors them as a matter of design,” explained Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman in a statement to a Senate judiciary subcommittee in September 2011.
Another issue about travel was that Google used scraped data (like consumer reviews) to benefit Google’s own competing product, for example by forcing review sites to provide their content for free.
Google has also been under scrutiny for for making it difficult for its AdWords advertisers to compare data about campaigns running on rival sites by Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO) and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT)’s Bing.
To address concerns and wrap up the antitrust investigations, Google may address at least some of these issues voluntarily, sources said. For example, the search engine would stop using reviews from other websites, to enhance its own products; and may allow AdWords customers to be able to export and compare data on effectiveness of ad campaigns.
Google and the FTC are also expected to come to an agreement regarding when the company can request sales bans when filing patent infringement lawsuits.
In the meanwhile in Europe, where an antitrust investigation into allegations that Google had abused a dominant market position has been launched in 2010, the European Commission is waiting for similar actions from Google.
“If Google comes up with an outline of remedies which are capable of addressing our concerns, I will instruct my staff to initiate the discussions in order to finalise a remedies package,” said Joaquín Almunia Vice President of the European Commission responsible for Competition Policy, in a statement in May 2012.
Such an outline has been sent by Google in July, and the company has been in talks with the European Commission ever since, but negotiations are not yet concluded. Joaquín Almunia seems to believe that the discussion could go on forever. So while in the US the antitrust probe seems to come to a close, in Europe, Google is still not off the hook.