FTC, EU to postpone Google antitrust decisions, report says

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission will apparently delay its decision over Google's antitrust probe until 2013, and the search giant could settle with EU authorities as soon as January.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission's final decision on its 20-month long antitrust probe of the search giant will be delayed until next year, Bloomberg reported late yesterday after speaking with unnamed sources.

The results of the probe were expected to be announced this week.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company has been in talks with the FTC over the past two weeks, and according to Bloomberg, Google has been preparing a letter with voluntary changes to try to end the FTC's investigation without it resulting in a formal settlement or eventual lawsuit.

In addition, the FTC has also been preparing to file a decree on patents that would limit the search engine giant from seeking court orders barring products when Google has previously agreed to license technology based on fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms.

"Questions about Google's search bias and other anti-competitive practices will not end if the FTC fails to take legally binding action to protect consumers and innovators in the U.S., where the market conditions and law are different than the EU," Fairsearch.org, a group of search engine competitors and a critic of the idea that Google may be able to avoid a formal settlement, said in an e-mailed statement to the news agency.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and the European Union antitrust chief Joaquin Almunia met last week in Brussels, Belgium, where Almunia said he expected an offer from Google by January 2013 to settle an additional antitrust probe, which is investigating complaints by rival firms that Google engaged with anti-competitive behavior.

In 2010, the EU launched an antitrust probe into Google's business practices after rival firms alleged that the tech giant uses methods that competition. The EU received over a dozen formal complaints, including Microsoft-owned search engine Ciao, Foundem, eJustice, Expedia, and TripAdvisor.

There are four main areas of concern that the EU has investigated.

These include how Google's products are incorporated within general search results, mainly the firm's "vertical search" function which may push out competing services. In addition, Google allegedly "copies content" such as user reviews without prior consent. The "exclusivity" of agreements concerning Google advertising on other sites is also under scrutiny. Finally, the display of third-party content and the flexibility of AdWords advertising is a worry for the EU, which thinks that restrictions on software developers may harm seamless campaign advertising from competitors.

Previously, talks were said to be on a "knife-edge," but the EU and Google are potentially making headway.

"Since our preliminary talks with Google started in July, we have substantially reduced our differences regarding possible ways to address each of the four competition concerns expressed by the commission," Almunia said in a statement Tuesday.

In order to bring the European antitrust probe to a close, Google has been told it may have to make drastic changes to its mobile services, which would include mobile search and advertising.

If Google is found guilty, under European law, the firm could face a fine of up to 10 percent of its global revenue, which equates to roughly $4 billion.

We've contacted the European Commission and will update this story when we hear back.

This story was originally posted as "FTC, EU to delay Google antitrust decisions: report" on ZDNet.

 

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