Google now free to extend web search lead as US ends probe

Written by Agencies | Washington | Updated: Jan 5 2013, 09:18am hrs
Google is free to extend its dominance of the $50-billion internet-search market after US regulators ended an investigation into whether the company unfairly skewed search results to disadvantage competitors.

The Federal Trade Commission, after a 20-month antitrust probe, concluded Google was motivated more by wanting to improve its search results and user experience than by a desire to stifle competition, said chairman Jon Leibowitz, who drew a distinction between dominating a market and doing so unfairly.

The FTCs decision clears the way for Google to continue adding features that have helped it beat back Microsoft and Yahoo! to become the worlds top search provider and most valuable internet company.

Nothing in the decision is a serious blow to any of Googles ambitions, Whit Andrews, an analyst for technology research firm Gartner, said. The FTC didnt get into the question of where the boundaries are going to get drawn in the search business, he said.

Google, which makes money by selling advertising next to search results, should grab 76% of the US search market this year, up from 75% last year. Microsoft should get 9% while Yahoo may land 6%, according to EMarketer.

The global internet search market is expected to grow to more than $50 billion this year, up 15% from the year-ago period, ZenithOptimedia, an advertising research unit of Paris- based Publicis Groupe, said in a report last year.

The agencys decision to close its probe without enforcement action is a blow to competitors, including Microsoft, Yelp, and Expedia. An alliance of e-commerce and web- search companies pressed the agency to bring a lawsuit, claiming Googles dominance of Internet search, combined with favoring its own services in answers to users web queries, violates antitrust laws.

Google agreed in a letter to the FTC, which the agency said is legally enforceable, to let websites remove their content from focused search services like Google Shopping or Google Local without removing or demoting that content in the main Google search engine.

Advertisers will also be able to compare data from other search engines within third-party services that use Googles AdWords software, Google said in a blog post on Thursday.

Search-engine competitors made many of the same product- design choices Google did, suggesting that this practice benefits consumers, Leibowitz said at a press conference in Washington on Thursday.

Google agreed in a consent decree to limitations on when it can seek to bar sales of competitors products that rely on so-called standard-essential patents.

Our case not affected by US ruling, says EU

Brussels : A decision by US regulators to end a probe into whether Google hurt rivals by manipulating internet searches will not affect the European Union's examination of the company. "We have taken note of the FTC decision, but we don't see that it has any direct implications for our investigation, for our discussions with Google, which are ongoing," said Michael Jennings, a spokesman for the European Commission, the EU executive.