The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) may reach a decision on how to proceed with an antitrust probe into Google, by mid September, according to a report from Bloomberg BusinessWeek, citing people familiar with the matter as the source of this info.
In June of last year, Google announced that it had received formal notification that the FTC had begun a review of its business. Now, over a year later, it appears that the agency is close to deciding whether or not to turn it into a lawsuit or reach some kind of settlement.
When Google announced the investigation, VP, Search, Amit Singhal said that Google follows five principles as a business. “These are the principles that guide us, and we know they’ll stand up to scrutiny,” he said. Those principles are: do what’s best for the user, provide the most relevant answers as quickly as possible, label advertisements clearly, be transparent, and “loyalty, not lock-in,” meaning users can control their data.
It remains to be seen whether these principles are satisfactory for the FTC, and whether the agency agrees that Google is doing the best it can among them.
The U.S. is, of course, not the only country where Google faces such scrutiny. Google recently submitted a proposal for settlement with the European Commission, but the details of that have not been made public. According to Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s sources, the “FTC is aware of what Google has proposed to its European counterparts,” and “the agency would regard a Google proposal, or even overtures to open talks, as premature until it has decided whether the company has violated the law.”
Some analysts believe a global settlement is in order, as Google operates all over the world. This could probably eliminate a lot of time spent investigating, and/or litigating, but it’s unlikely that Google will roll over so easily, depending on what all governments require. Remember, Google thinks those aforementioned principles are enough, and in many of the areas of concern, it’s hard to show that Google’s competitors aren’t engaging in many of the same practices. They just don’t have the market share. At least one, ironically, is even battling its own antitrust suit.
None of this scrutiny has seemed to slow Google down. It continues to make acquisitions similar to some that have faced the heaviest criticism from those who see Google as monopoly. For example, earlier this month, news came out that Google would acquire travel guide brand Frommer’s. This will likely only lead to Google delivering more direct answers and reviews from search results, making it less likely that users will have to click through to third parties. That doesn’t mean they can’t choose a different starting point for their search.
Comments from former FTC Chairman William Kovacic seem to suggest that the FTC would be unsuccessful if it takes Google to court. It will be very interesting to see if that’s the route the agency takes, and just how far Google is willing to bend, particularly in its homeland.