On Wednesday, in a landmark decision, the FTC agreed to close their anti-trust investigation if Google makes some “voluntary changes” to how it conducts its business, and to drop its requests for injunctions “to block rivals from using patents essential to key technologies.”
For the past couple of years, Google has been in a bit of hot water with the United States Federal Trade Commission on several different allegations that Google has engaged in anti-competitive practices. These kinds of investigations are a common practice with companies with massive market share, as Microsoft can attest to. According to a May 2012 survey by comScore, Google owns nearly 70% of the search market, where Bing only gets about 16%.
Microsoft’s Complaint against Google’s Smartphone Policies
As you can imagine, Microsoft’s reaction to the news was less than positive. Microsoft is alleging that Google has been blocking the Windows Phone from accessing YouTube in order to provide a YouTube app on the Windows Marketplace. According to Microsoft’s Vice President & Deputy General Counsel Dave Heiner:
“[I]n 2010 and again more recently, Google blocked Microsoft’s new Windows Phones from operating properly with YouTube. Google has enabled its own Android phones to access YouTube so that users can search for video categories, find favorites, see ratings, and so forth in the rich user interfaces offered by those phones. It’s done the same thing for the iPhones offered by Apple, which doesn’t offer a competing search service.”
“Contrary to Microsoft’s claims, it’s easy for consumers to view YouTube videos on Windows phones,” the Google spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement. “Windows phone users can access all the features of YouTube through our HTML5-based mobile website, including viewing high-quality video streams, finding favorite videos, seeing video ratings, and searching for video categories. In fact, we’ve worked with Microsoft for several years to help build a great YouTube experience on Windows phones.”
FTC’s Investigation into “Search Bias” and Online Advertising Difficulties
Something very near and dear to our heart as a company that provides search engine marketing for our company and our clients, the FTC also investigated the allegation that Google restricts online advertisers’ ability to use other search platforms. One concern among FTC commissioners is the difficulty with using Google’s API along with other search properties. Google has agreed to make changes on this front, by allowing websites to opt-out of display and vertical search offerings while still appearing in organic search results.
Another issue in this investigation deals with Google’s Universal Search tool. This is the tool that seems to give Google products, such as Google Shopping or Google Local, special status in search results. The commission investigated if Google sued the tool to “reduce or eliminate a nascent competitive threat.” The FTC concluded, however, that the use of this tool could be justified as merely product innovations that give Google a competitive advantage.
It is hard to say exactly if Microsoft and the other companies lobbying for a lawsuit against Google have a point, or if the competitors are merely complaining because they can’t compete with Google’s popularity. I tend to almost always use Google for search, more out of habit I suppose than anything. When Google’s “Search Plus Your World” came out in January of 2012, it seemed like there was a possibility that Google Plus posts would show up in search results and Facebook and other networks would not. However, I can’t say there has been a ton of evidence that this is really the case. As search engine optimizers, we can sometimes feel frustration toward Google’s algorithm (and the consistent tweaking of what shows up in organic results). However, we are white hat SEO’s, so we mostly think that Google’s changes were good for the user and good for us.
What do you think about the FTC’s decision? Do you think Google is in the wrong? Leave your comments in the box below!