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Why the FTC's Google Antitrust Investigation Went Nowhere

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on January 04, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

There's good news for Google, as the Federal Trade Commission has announced it's settling an antitrust investigation into the search giant's practices.

Two years ago, the FTC launched a probe into Google's search engine algorithms to determine if they violated antitrust regulations. But on Thursday the Commission unanimously voted to close the investigation.

As part of the closure, Google made a voluntary pledge to change some search and ad practices, and agreed to stop using patents as weapons. So how did they get off so leniently?

There's no question that Google is a huge force in Internet search, similar to what Microsoft was for personal computers in the 1990s. But Microsoft had to deal with a lengthy trial and substantial repercussions from the FTC.

One explanation could be Google's savvy political "offense," according to Politico. When government agents started investigating Google's business practices, the company took action.

Millions were spent on lobbying, working with both Republicans and Democrats to make the case that Google's actions were lawful. The company also consulted with government insiders during the investigation, Politico reports.

That hands-on strategy may have helped the company make its case in Washington. But the legal standard in antitrust law may also have helped Google reach such a rosy resolution to the probe.

In investigating whether Google's practices hurt competition rather than just disadvantaging competitors, the FTC came up with very little. Proving harm to consumers is difficult unless that harm has already occurred.

Of course, Google's claim was that its search algorithms help consumers get better, faster, and more closely tailored results to their queries.

Without proof that consumers were losing out on opportunities because of Google's practices, the FTC was hard pressed to find otherwise. The popularity of other search engines like Bing and Yahoo! also indicates that consumers still have options.

The FTC investigation may be over, but Google is still on the defensive, reports The Washington Post. A probe by the European Union is still ongoing.

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