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Google settles with FTC

6:58 PM, Jan 3, 2013   |    comments
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SAN FRANCISCO (USA TODAY) -- U.S. regulators today found Google did not run afoul of antitrust concerns to harm competitors by abusing its Internet search dominance in a bid to favor its own services, capping a 19-month probe of the online giant.

The Federal Trade Commission said Google has agreed to change its business practices to resolve wide-ranging competition concerns over its Internet search business and its use of patents covering mobile devices.

Competitors alleged Google used its Internet search dominance to unfairly favor its own services over rivals in search results. The agency agreed, however, that Google was attempting to improve search results rather than demote competitors in search ranks. The FTC said Google's practices were consistent with those of other online search companies.

"We didn't think the evidence supported an FTC challenge," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a press conference in Washington, D.C.

Microsoft and other technology rivals had sought for federal regulators to wage an antitrust case against Google's search business. The prospect of a drawn-out investigation had been a concern for Google's business.

Under the settlement, Google has also agreed to quit misappropriating online content from competitors' Web sites and will give online advertisers more flexibility to manage campaigns on rival ad platforms, the agency said.

"Google will stop misappropriating or scraping the content of its rivals for use of its own specialized search results," said Leibowitz.

Rivals alleged that the search giant was passing off online content -- such as local restaurant reviews from Yelp -- as its own. Google had argued that such use was protected by fair use provisions of copyright laws. The FTC will "vigorously monitor them," said the agency's chief.

"The conclusion is clear: Google's services are good for users and good for competition," David Drummond, Google's legal chief, said in a blog post.

Critics of the FTC's agreement had sought more teeth in the measures the agency took against Google.

FTC regulators "failed to use their authority for the betterment of the marketplace and to the advantage of consumers by declining to take action against the dominant company," said Steve Pociask, president of the American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research.

Google also reached an accord with the FTC to give competitors access to patents covering "critical standardized technologies" on fair licensing terms. Those patents cover key technologies in devices such as smartphones, tablet computers and gaming consoles. Under the settlement terms, Google has agreed to not first seek injunctions to block rivals from using such patents.

"We've agreed with the FTC that we will seek to resolve standard-essential patent disputes through a neutral third party before seeking injunctions," wrote Drummond.

The search giant nabbed over 24,000 patents and patent applications last year in its $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility.

Scott Martin, USA TODAY

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