US regulators yesterday cleared Google of fixing internet searches to favour its own services, although the settlement came with a number of concessions from the web giant.
The company was forced to change ways it produces search results and how it displays adverts, following complaints from competitors that Google had abused its position as the world’s dominant internet search provider.
The settlement follows a 19-month investigation in which the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) scored 9m pages of evidence.
Under the agreement, Google will stop using sections of other websites’ data in its own services such as reviews if the websites opt out of it.
Perhaps more significantly, the company will now have to allow rival device manufacturers, such as Apple and Nokia, to have greater access to certain patents owned by Google.
This is a blow for Google because its $12.5bn (£7.8bn) acquisition of the lossmaking phone manufacturer Motorola Mobility was widely interpreted as a move to fight back in the global patent wars against the likes of Apple.
Now, it will not be able to request sales bans on devices that allegedly infringe on its intellectual property.
However, Google was considered by many to have been let off lightly. The FTC did not crack down on the major complaint from competitors – that Google favours its own services, such as its maps and shopping tools, in its search results. And the company was not hit with a fine.
It may not get off so lightly when a probe from EU competition authorities concludes. Google has proposed a number of concessions to the European Commission, which the authorities are currently mulling.
“Although some evidence suggested Google was trying to eliminate competition, Google's primary reason for changing its look and feel or algorithm was to improve search results,” FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz said.
He added that Google was “unquestionably one of America’s great companies”.
In a triumphant statement following the announcement, Google’s chief legal officer David Drummond said: “The conclusion is clear: Google’s services are good for users and good for competition.”