Google Inc. may have a dodged a bullet.
The company engaged in anticompetitive behavior to maintain the dominance of its search engine, investigators at the Federal Trade Commission wrote in a private report obtained by the Wall Street Journal.
In the 2012 report, FTC staff recommended that an antitrust lawsuit be brought against Google, according the Journal’s story, published Thursday. But FTC commissioners decided instead to close the investigation in early 2013. A lawsuit could have brought costly penalties.
The staff argued that Google demonstrated anticompetitive behavior in at least three areas: improving its search results by copying content from websites such as Amazon and then threatening to remove those websites from Google if they objected; forbidding companies from bolstering advertising campaigns on other websites by using data that they gathered from running advertising on Google’s ad platform; and restricting websites from displaying search results from both Google and one of its competitors.
Google also harmed companies such as Yelp and Orbitz by favoring its own shopping and travel services in search results, the FTC report said. This was the major issue in the investigation, but FTC staff wrote that bringing a case on this point would be difficult because Google could argue that its action led to a better interface for search-engine users.
Luther Lowe, Yelp’s vice president of public policy, said in a statement Thursday afternoon that the new revelations show why his company and many others continue to support a long-running European Union investigation into Google’s practices.
“Google admitted to the FTC that it knowingly placed inferior content in front of consumers so it could promote Google+,” Lowe said by email to the Los Angeles Times. “With the FTC agreeing to a weak settlement against the recommendation of professional staff, this anti-consumer behavior has been effectively green-lighted in the United States.”
The Journal acquired the report in response to a Freedom of Information Act after the FTC released what should have been a redacted version. Google general counsel Kent Walker told the paper that “speculation about potential consumer harm turned out to be entirely wrong” and that in the two years since the investigation ended “the ways people access information online have only increased, giving consumers more choice than ever before.”
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