Back in 2013, the FTC wrapped up a two-year investigation into Google’s online monopoly power, from which the search giant got away relatively unscathed with a series of “voluntary” measures. But recently uncovered documents obtained by the Wall Street Journal reveal that key members of the FTC did want to bring antitrust charges against Google, saying it abused its power and harmed consumer choice. The agency's commissioners nevertheless ended up voting unanimously to end the investigation after Google’s changes.
Then-FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz said that by making some changes to its practices, Google offered “more relief for American consumers faster than any other option.” FTC's economics bureau also recommended against a lawsuit.
The probe was originally launched due to allegations that Google was lifting content from sites like Yelp, Amazon and TripAdvisor to improve its own services, and then placing those above the competition in search results. The FTC investigation was able to corroborate this, and also found that when competitors asked Google to stop scraping their content, they were threatened with removal from search rankings. Don’t be evil, right?
Among the changes that Google implemented to avoid being fined by the FTC is letting websites like Yelp or TripAdvisor opt-out from having snippets of their content appear in the company’s search results.
The revelations could prompt new complaints from rivals who allege the company still engages in anticompetitive behavior, and comes at a time antitrust authorities in Europe are conducting their own probe on Google’s practices.