If you’re the type who dominates dinner discussions with rants about the mixed-up-priorities and general toothlessness of government agencies, you’re going to be in for a real treat today.
A leaked report just revealed that the FTC’s investigation of Google’s actions in recent years led it to conclude that “Google’s conduct has resulted – and will result – in real harm to consumers and innovation.” Naturally, the FTC chose to end the investigation in 2013 and return to its stated purpose: “To prevent business practices that are anticompetitive or deceptive or unfair to consumers.”
The Wall Street Journal has done an excellent job of summarizing the disturbing conclusions in the FTC report. It notes that if the FTC has actually brought a lawsuit challenging the actions of Google that it found most egregious, the case would have been, profile-wise, on par with Microsoft’s long-ago antitrust troubles.
When the FTC investigation came to an end two years ago, Google was quick to get the word out that Google no longer had the FTC cloud over it. But the 160-page document, which was recently leaked in a Freedom of Information request, found that Google was making it hard for “comparison shopping websites” (Yelp was likely one of the sites being referenced here) to compete with Google for search results. Google “adopted a strategy of demoting or refusing to display, links to certain vertical websites in highly commercial categories,” according to the report.
The report also suggested that Google might have threatened to remove sites like Yelp from its search engine when it and other companies asked it to stop using their content.
The five commissioners voted unanimously not to bring charges.
The FTC is sure to get plenty of flak for not pursuing Google more aggressively, but whether the report will have much impact this long after the FTC ended its investigation is up in the air.