Google settles with FTC over antitrust issues

Under terms of the deal, Google avoids making major changes to its search product.

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz announces the Google agreement.
FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz announces the Google agreement. Screenshot by Casey Newton/CNET

Google competitors unhappy with the way their search results are displayed on Google search pages will be able to opt out under an agreement announced today by the Federal Trade Commission.

That was perhaps the most significant plank of a multipart agreement announced by the FTC after a lengthy investigation into Google's practices. The agreement will require Google to make minor changes to resolve complaints by competitors and advertisers. It avoided any fines.

At the same time, the FTC voted 5-0 that Google's search results were not biased in favor of its own results in a way that was anticompetitive. Many of the practices condemned by Google's critics are used by Google's own competitors, the commission said.

In a separate, 4-1 vote, the commission ruled that Google must stop blocking the use of standard essential patents by competitors. The patents, which it acquired when it purchased Motorola, are used to comply with technical standards.

Google also agreed to remove restrictions on the use of AdWords, its search advertising platform, that make it harder for advertisers to coordinate their campaigns across multiple platforms.

"Today's action delivers more relief for American consumers faster than any other option available to the commission and protects competitions to competitors in several crucial markets," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said.

A complete description of the agreement can be found at the FTC Web site.

"The conclusion is clear: Google's services are good for users and good for competition," David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, said in a blog post.

The 20-month investigation focused on two areas of competition: search, where competitors say Google favors its own results over theirs, and patent licensing, where critics say Google has acted in anticompetitive ways.

The sides were reportedly close to reaching an agreement last month, but it fell apart amid criticism that the proposed agreement was too lenient on Google.

Leibowitz made the announcement at FTC headquarters in Washington. He was joined by Bureau of Competition Director Richard Feinstein and Deputy Director Pete Levitas, as well as Bureau of Economics Director Howard Shelanski.

Google still faces a separate inquiry from European Union antitrust investigators. The investigation, launched in 2010, began after rival companies alleged that Google was abusing its dominance in search.

An FTC infographic on the terms of the deal.
An FTC infographic on the terms of the deal. FTC
 

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