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Google, FTC Settle Antitrust Case 59

Posted by timothy
from the fairly-uneventful-on-the-surface dept.
itwbennett writes "According to an ITworld report, 'Google has agreed to change some of its business practices, including allowing competitors access to some standardized technologies, to resolve a U.S. Federal Trade Commission antitrust complaint against the company.' This includes 'allow[ing] competitors access to standards-essential patents the company acquired along with its purchase of Motorola Mobility.' Also among the business practices Google has agreed to stop is 'scraping Web content from rivals and allegedly passing it off as its own, said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.'" SlashCloud has some more details, including links to the agreement itself and Google's soft-pedaling description of "voluntary product changes."
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Google, FTC Settle Antitrust Case

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  • by Sheetrock (152993) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:09PM (#42465995) Homepage Journal

    Also among the business practices Google has agreed to stop is 'scraping Web content from rivals and allegedly passing it off as its own, said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.'"

    So, would there be a problem if Google scraped Web content from rivals and proudly proclaimed it was passing it off as its own?

    • I think allegedly is used correctly. Maybe if it read " 'scraping Web content from rivals and sheepishly passing it off as its own, said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.' Then I would be a bit confused :)

      That said, the language of the TFS and timothy's editorializing Google as "soft-pedaling" are pretty lame click-trolling. The biggest complaint was the search results (not mentioned in TFS, or even the slashcloud article at all). The FRAND patent stuff was a recent addition to the now-closed investigation.

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      "Allegedly" because, even though Google is agreeing not to do something, it isn't admitting that it did anything.
      This is the regulatory and rhetorical mess that results from settlements with no admission of guilt.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Google essentially won here, and that's exactly how it should be. The government has no place telling Google what it can and cannot do on its own website - they're guaranteed freedom of speech, and Google.com is the outlet for that speech. They have every right to order search results however the hell they want to, and it's good to see that the feds didn't decide otherwise.

    The other concessions have a bit more basis in reality, but it's bullshit that Motorola can't seek injunctions for technology that made

    • by omnichad (1198475)

      Google unfairly ranking their own products higher on their search engines would be an abuse of monopoly power. It's not as damaging as a state-run newspaper praising the government, but it has a lot of the same effects.

      • You how is it unfair to recommend your own product above others? Microsoft still packages ie with windows they just have to allows it to be removed just as Google also shows other peoples products.

        • by omnichad (1198475)

          Their search information is presented as a collection of unbiased facts. It's not like they're saying "Like Google? Try Google Plus" - it's more like responding to search queries for "most popular social network" with a link to Google+ as the first result.

          The browser ballot screen that the EU requires Microsoft to use shows the top 5 browsers in random order. They aren't even allowed to put their own first.

        • by sFurbo (1361249)
          If you are a monopoly, you are not free to do things other businesses are free to do. For example, you are restricted in using your monopoly in one market to influence another market. This was what Microsoft did when they gave away their browser with their (monopoly) OS. In the same way, Google seems to have a monopoly in the search engine market. If they placed their own products higher than their competitors, that could be using their monopoly to influence other markets, and that could be illegal. Whether
      • by DragonWriter (970822) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @06:51PM (#42468529)

        Google unfairly ranking their own products higher on their search engines would be an abuse of monopoly power.

        It might have been, if they did that, but the FTC investigated that claim and didn't find support for it, saying [ftc.gov]:

        In sum, we find that the evidence presented at this time does not support the allegation that Google’s display of its own vertical content at or near the top of its search results page was a product design change undertaken without a legitimate business justification. Rather, we conclude that Google’s display of its own content could plausibly be viewed as an improvement in the overall quality of Google’s search product. Similarly, we have not found sufficient evidence that Google manipulates its search algorithms to unfairly disadvantage vertical websites that compete with Google-owned vertical properties. Although at points in time various vertical websites have experienced demotions, we find that this was a consequence of algorithm changes that also could plausibly be viewed as an improvement in the overall quality of Google’s search results.

        Although our careful review of the evidence in this matter supports our decision to close this investigation, we will remain vigilant and continue to monitor Google for conduct that may harm competition and consumers.

        • by omnichad (1198475)

          I said "would be" I didn't say "was." I know that Google doesn't do that. I was responding to a parent post that said it would be perfectly fine if Google did so, and some garbage about free speech.

  • by WGFCrafty (1062506) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:39PM (#42466435)
    Scraped content is against Google' s own webmaster guidelines, where were they passing it off as their own?
    • Exactly.

      My personal opinion (that I am sure can be picked at) is that if what google does with previews violates copyright, then so does (did?) the newsagent that puts a copy of the newspaper in their window. There is no doubt in either case where the original content comes from *and* it's for promo purposes.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        My personal opinion (that I am sure can be picked at) is that if what google does with previews violates copyright, then so does (did?) the newsagent that puts a copy of the newspaper in their window.

        Congratulations, you have proven your nickname to be valid. Using the item itself to sell the item is legal regardless of any copyrights or design patents. You can't use its likeness, but you can use it, so you can put the item in the window but you can't put a picture of the window in the paper.

        • You want to put a picture of your window with the newspaper in it in the newspaper and then put the paper with your window in your window? Just make sure you have an exit case.

  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@h a c k i sh.org> on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:41PM (#42466475)

    All Google agreed was that the patents it holds which are essential to the implementation of certain mobile-telephony standards will be licensed under FRAND terms [wikipedia.org]. They didn't agree to let them be used for free or anything.

    Why weren't those already the terms? Standards bodies are supposed to, if they're doing their job, approve standards with some kind of FRAND licensing condition, in order for the standards to actually function as standards. The point of a standard is that everyone making a device with a certain kind of functionality is supposed to conform to certain agreed ("standard") behavior. To do that, they have to be able to legally able to implement the standard, which means any patents essential to the implementation need to be generally available to any third party for licensing, on reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      This is a political statement, the politicians look like they're doing something, Google appears to have been reprimanded, but in reality, no change was made. The patents are already and have been under FRAND. The real FRAND, not the Apple definition ("F stands for Free!")

    • by DragonWriter (970822) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @06:58PM (#42468605)

      All Google agreed was that the patents it holds which are essential to the implementation of certain mobile-telephony standards will be licensed under FRAND terms [wikipedia.org]. They didn't agree to let them be used for free or anything. Why weren't those already the terms?

      Google is required by the Consent Order to make a very specific offer regarding FRAND licensing (to the point that the order includes fill-in-the-blank demand letters Google is to use) before seeking injunctive relief; the FTC sees this as a correction to Google/MMI's past approach in these cases where, in the FTC's view, Google/MMI didn't do as much as it should have regarding seeking a FRAND licensing commitment before seeking injunctive relief.

      Its not really a big loss for Google, since Google would be quite happy for other parties to have the option of making the commitment that the letter offers instead of going through an injunction process (which allows Google to demand reciprocal licensing as part of the offer), and even moreso Google would be quite happy with the FTC's stated intent that the proposed approach would become a general model for handling of disputes centered on the use of standards-essential patents.

  • by dgharmon (2564621) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @06:15PM (#42468013) Homepage
    "regarding the specific allegations [ftc.gov] that the company biased its search results to hurt competition, the evidence collected to date did not justify legal action by the Commission .. The evidence did not demonstrate that Google's actions in this area stifled competition in violation of U.S. law".
  • by Anonymous Coward

    For the Microsoft shills and companies involved with FairSearch. All of Microsoft's lobbying, attack ads and smear campaigns have failed yet again.

  • Wow the case and its verdict really talks a load about the FTC initiative to drive transparency and equal access to new technology. BTW Google is fighting a similar case in EU. Details Here [cbronline.com]

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