FairSearch ‘disappointed’ over conclusion of US Google probe

by Lee Hayhurst
by Lee Hayhurst
January 4, 2013 02:35 PM GMT

FairSearch, the lobby group representing many travel firms, has expressed disappointment over the conclusion of an investigation in the US into Google’s dominant market position.

The watchdog Federal Trade Commission formally closed its investigation into whether Google was showing undue bias towards its own products in search results.

It broadly exonerated Google over claims of bias although did extract some concessions from Google including about how it scrapes content including reviews from third party sites and presents it as if it is its own.

But FairSearch, which includes Kayak, TripAdvisor, and Expedia among its membership, said it was disappointed the FTC investigation had closed ahead of a similar probe in Europe.

In a statement the lobby group said: “The FTC’s decision to close its investigation with only voluntary commitments from Google is disappointing and premature, coming just weeks before the company is expected to make a formal and detailed proposal to resolve the four abuses of dominance identified by the European Commission, first among them biased display of its own properties in search results.

“The FTC’s settlement is by no means the last word in this case, leaving the FTC without a major role in the final resolution to the investigations of Google’s anti-competitive practices by state attorneys general and the European Commission.

“The FTC’s inaction on the core question of search bias will only embolden Google to act more aggressively to misuse its monopoly power to harm other innovators.

“State attorneys general who reportedly disagreed with today’s announcement by the FTC have an important role to play in ensuring both that Google is not allowed to continue practices that hurt every American business through artificially high advertising costs, and to demand that whatever changes Google is forced to make in Europe also apply for US consumers who risk losing innovation because of Google’s aggressive abuse of its dominance.

“FairSearch and its members will continue work with authorities in the US, Europe and elsewhere who are investigating Google. Our members also plan to participate in the European Commission’s market testing of any proposed binding remedies to Google’s harms.

“FairSearch will continue to fight to restore truly competitive conditions to the market for search and related online services. No less than the future of innovation and small business on the Internet is at stake.”

In a statement on the FTC decision Google chief counsel David Drummond said: "“The conclusion is clear: Google’s services are good for users and good for competition. We’ve always accepted that with success comes regulatory scrutiny.

“But we’re pleased that the FTC and the other authorities that have looked at Google's business practices have concluded that we should be free to combine direct answers with web results.”

FTC chairman Jon Leibovitz said it “followed the fact” in coming to its conclusion describing some of the complaints against Google, like from rival Expedia, as the result of “hand-to-hand combat”.

He added: “Although some evidence suggested Google was trying to eliminate competition, Google's primary reason for changing its look and feel or [search] algorithm was to improve search results."

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