A report which categorized Google as a monopoly was mistakenly released by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). What’s odd about the report is that while Google was labeled a monopoly, the FTC decided it would not seek legal recourse against the multinational tech giant. In the beginning of 2013, the FTC officially announced that it would cease its antitrust investigation, and only demanded that Google modify its business practices.
Even though the FTC closed the investigation, there were many who felt that Google was handed a mere slap on the wrist. The Wall Street Journal ran an article in which the 160 page report was discussed and claimed that the report was in inadvisedly disclosed in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
Written by the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, the report was just one of many statements and suggestions which were considered by the FTC, before the commission eventually voted against legal action in 2012. The report determined that Google had taken advantage of its market position; “Google’s conduct has resulted – and will result – in real harm to consumers and to innovation in the online search and advertising markets.” The report went further to state that “[the] evidence paints a complex portrait of a company working toward an overall goal of maintaining its market share by providing the best user experience, while simultaneously engaging in tactics that resulted in harm to many vertical competitors, and likely helped to entrench Google’s monopoly power over search and search advertising.”
Specific instances of complaints from TripAdvisor and Yelp to Google about the use of their content on Google’s local pages were outlined in the report. The content was believed to be competitive and Google did remove it, however the report maintains that Google’s stance at that time to remove Yelp and TripAdvisor from the search index was forced and was an outright abuse of power. The FTC made Google’s accession to not intimidate its competitors with de-indexing in a 2013 settlement with the company.
Conscious chatter around the FTC paints a story in which it was a very “close call” as to whether legal action against Google was necessary. There is no doubt, that the FTC was a heavily influenced by the Microsoft antitrust case of the 1990s while making their determination.
Now that this report has surfaced, it is expected that it will be used in the current antitrust investigation against Google in Europe and many will seek tougher sanctions that those doled out by the FTC.