Today the Federal Trade Commission issued the disappointing decision to pass on compelling Google to end its anti-competitive search manipulation practices that favor the prominent display of its own products.
Rather, the FTC and Google agreed for the search giant to end other anti-competitive practices, largely through a voluntary agreement that lacks the kind of enforcement and monitoring mechanisms that exist in consent decrees, the traditional vehicle the FTC takes for remedying antitrust violations.
Beth Wilkinson, hired by the FTC as outside counsel for the investigation, described the agency’s rationale in a release today: “Undoubtedly, Google took aggressive actions to gain advantage over rival search providers. However, the FTC’s mission is to protect competition, and not individual competitors.”
FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz pointed out in remarks prepared for his press conference today that “although some evidence suggested that Google was trying to eliminate competition…” quizzically, the FTC also said in a 3-page statement that it lacked the evidence because changes to Google’s search algorithm could “plausibly be viewed as an improvement in the overall quality of Google’s search results.”
While the FTC may have missed the point about the nature of Google’s harm to consumers – chilled innovation – Bloomberg editors get it. In a post attributed to them entitled “The FTC’s Missed Opportunity on Google,” Bloomberg editors suggested the FTC missed a golden opportunity to serve its mission of protecting U.S. consumers.
“Ask yourself this simple question: Am I harmed when rival services, whether for product comparisons, hotel bookings, airfares, restaurant reviews or maps, go out of business because they can’t compete with Google? We suspect the answer is yes.”
Members of FairSearch, of course, could not agree more. It’s a question we expect the European Commission is pondering right now when it comes to European companies and consumers.