Details are starting to emerge from the FTC's 19-month review of Google's search operations. And, while the company was found to manipulate its searches in uncompetitive ways, it got off practically scot-free.
The New York Times reports (via a gated Wall Street Journal article), that this information how now come to light from a 160-page report only through an open-records request. This, on its own, seems to suggest that the report was purposely shuffled away for some reason, hoping the public and the media would forget about it.
The issue stems from how Google altered its search engine results to show its services higher in search rankings, despite having a clearly inferior service. On its own, this isn't a big deal. The search engine is Google's after all. But, the problem is that Google makes web sites and services jump through difficult hoops to obtain higher search rankings. And, when that didn't happen as promised, despite having each and every tick box checked, Google's intentions became vividly clear.
The initial report in 2012, recommended that the FTC should sue Google for its lawbreaking activities. But, in early 2013 the agency voted unanimously not to bring formal charges. Apparently, the FTC was happy enough to get just a promise from Google that it would change its ways. But, this doesn't give retribution to those companies, web sites, and services that were affected by Google's self-supplying search algorithm. Some of those have since shuttered their doors because it couldn't compete in Google's corrosive sandbox.
Several companies have spoken out against the FTC's decision. Yelp's Vice President, Luthor Lowe stated that "…the F.T.C. agreeing to a weak settlement against the recommendation of professional staff, this anti-consumer behavior has been effectively greenlighted in the United States." Yelp competes with Google for local business searches and has experience with Google pushing out opponents. A Microsoft representative said the ruling was "weak and – frankly – unusual." Microsoft, of course, lost its own antitrust case against the U.S. justice system in 2001, which might actually have led, in some small part, to Google's dominance today.
U.S. companies unsatisfied with the FTC's decision are looking to Europe's current antitrust inquiry into Google and hoping for stronger sanctions.
Of course, Google has weighed in on the matter. Google's general counsel, Kent Walker said, "Speculation about potential consumer and competitor harm turned out to be entirely wrong."
Why do I see a Cheshire cat grin when I read that statement?