According to various reports, separate US and European Union (EU) antitrust investigations of Google will not wrap up until January. Both investigations were previously expected to conclude this month.
In the United States, reports had surfaced that the weak-toothed Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was getting ready to cave and would accept only weak behavioral remedies from Google. But faced with mounting and frenzied criticism from Google’s competitors, the FTC has cancelled plans to announce a settlement with the online advertising firm and will instead seek harsher punishments. It now plans to resolve its issues with Google next month.
The New York Times reports this morning that FTC commissioners will now consider further penalties against Google, which has been accused of harming competitors and consumers by artificially tailoring search results to favor Google’s own services. The publication says that Google’s competitors were “outraged” that the FTC would accept Google assurances to change its behavior rather than formally charge the firm with antitrust violations.
In a separate editorial in the same publication today, former FTC commissioner Pamela Jones Harbour called on her former employer to rein in “the web’s emperor” before it’s too late. “Google is not just a search engine company or … an advertising platform,” she notes. “Google is a data collection company. And in that realm, its role is so dominant as to be overwhelming, and scary … Allow[ing] Google to continue to amass unbridled control over data gathering [will have] grave consequences for privacy and for consumer choice.”
(A lawyer, Harbour currently represents some Google competitors, including Microsoft.)
Separately, the FTC has also investigated Google’s control of smartphone and mobile patents after competitors complained that the firm is illegally trying to overcharge for so-called standard essential patents.
In Europe, Google chairman Eric Schmidt met with EU competition commissioner Joaquín Almunia this week and apparently offered enough concessions that the EU will give Google another month to close the gap. “Since our preliminary talks with Google started in July, we have substantially reduced our differences regarding possible ways to address the competition concerns,” Almunia declared. “I now expect Google to come forward with a detailed commitment text in January 2013.”
As with the FTC investigation, the EU is concerned primarily with Google's practice of harming competitors by artificially promoting its own services in search results over those of its competitors. But Schmidt told Almunia that Google would change this display and end the illegal activity, hopefully avoiding formal charges in the process.
Google is keen to settle with the EU because regulators there can charge the firm up to 10 percent of its annual global revenues for the previous year, a sum of almost $4 billion. And EU regulators have certainly been more strident in protecting competition than their US counterparts.