If the FTC goes through with the idea of suing Google Inc. (GOOG), many people will feel vindicated. Many have spoken against Google’s attempts of trying to block competitors’ access to key smartphone-technology patents, and the US Federal Trade Commission seemed to keep a blind eye. Things are changing.
Four sources told Bloomberg today that the agency’s staff made a formal recommendation to sue Google for trying to block U.S. imports of products made by Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) and Apple Inc. (AAPL). Google claims that some of these products infringe patents owned by Google’s Motorola Mobility, when, in fact, they rely more on industry-standard technology. According to the same undisclosed sources, a majority of the commissioners are inclined to sue, but the matter won’t be made public until after the November 6 US presidential election.
Things are heating up for Google, which is already facing a number of anti-trust suits on both sides of the Atlantic. At the beginning of October, European Union data privacy experts told Google that its latest privacy rules did not comply with European standards. But long before privacy issues, Google has been under investigation for manipulating search results for its own benefit by the European Competition Commissioner since 2010 and the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) since 2011. And Google gets closer to a court date.
There’s no smoke without fire
Naturally, there’s no smoke without fire. Both the European Commission and the FTC were alerted by consumer complaints.
Foundem and SearchNeutrality.org warned in 2010 that Google’s Universal Search mechanism poses an immediate threat to healthy competition and innovation on the Internet. And they based their findings on extensive research and Foundem’s formal competition complaint against Google filed with the European Commission in February 2010. They also warned that Universal Search transforms Google’s ostensibly neutral search engine into an immensely powerful marketing channel for Google’s other services. And more an more business owners, who depend on Google listings for ROI, feel this to be true.
But while big companies can afford to fight Google and often regain their listings, smaller companies lose business and need to close down. On February 24, 2011 Google released Panda, which, according to an article on Saving Small Businesses, mistakenly devalued scores of legitimate high quality businesses, dramatically dropping their websites in the search results to where users would no longer find them.
Like everything else Google does, Panda was no accident. The search engine attempted to reduce rankings for low-quality sites, but unfortunately, the new algorithm changed the face of search forever for small businesses:
“Prior to the Panda experiment small businesses had a legitimate and fair chance to rank in Google’s search results. Since Panda, they are randomly wiped out by an algorithm gone bad,” Saving Small Businesses reported.
Panda and Penguin are small potatoes for Google, who has other plans for the immediate future. The search engine is already a powerful media company, and already acts like a publisher of content in many ways. The mere search results alone are published content, and Google pleads for First Amendment protection. If you read First Amendment Protection for Search Engine Search Results, a White Paper Commissioned by Google (which you can also download here), you’ll find that:
“Briefly, the heart of the accusations is that Google somehow prioritizes its own thematic search results over results originating from specialized competitors. Whether this is so is a contested question, which turns, among other things, on disputes about what would constitute ‘neutral’ judgments and what would be a departure from those judgments. Yet even if it is assumed that Google engages or plans to engage in such prioritizing, that prioritizing would constitute the legitimate exercise of Google’s First Amendment right to decide how to present information in its speech to its users.”
This shows not only that Google tweaks its algorithms at will, but also that it does so in its own interest, and believes it has a right to do so. Whether this is the case, it’s for the FTC to decide. In the meanwhile, Google’s slowly roasting.