Google is believed to be close to reaching a settlement with US anti-trust investigators that would allow the search engine to escape heavy punishment in return for an agreement not to scrape content for its own sites and indexes, and to operate more “transparently”.
The agreement, which was revealed this weekend by Bloomberg and reflects an earlier prediction by SiliconANGLE’s founding editor Mark “Rizzn” Hopkins , would see Google provide written assurances that it will no longer scrape content from other sites, and also provide tools for advertisers to compare Google ad campaigns with those ran on other search engines.
What’s interesting about the deal is that the concessions made by Google seem to have been made voluntarily – the company is hoping that in return for them, the FTC won’t mete out any further punishment.
But should this be the case, rivals of Google – including Microsoft, Expedia and Yelp – will almost certainly be up in arms over it.
Fairsearch, the pressure group formed by the above companies together with TripAdvisor and Oracle, has long campaigned against Google’s perceived bias, which it says has been designed to thwart the company’s competition in pretty much every niche it has its fingers in. For instance, Yelp has complained bitterly about Google in the past, claiming that the search giant regularly scrapes content from it to use in its own, Google Place listings, before ‘tweaking’ its algorithms to ensure that these results appear first.
Bloomberg reports that the group also warned against letting Google off the hook with any concessions, claiming that this will only lead to further problems later on:
“Enforcement authorities should not allow Google to retain an unfair advantage in the market gained through years of anti- competitive behavior. If the FTC fails to take meaningful action after a nearly two-year investigation, Google will only be emboldened to act in ways that are more harmful to consumers and innovators.”
Looking at the concessions as reported by Bloomberg, it would seem that Fairsearch’s concerns are valid. Should the FTC accept the deal, it will have entirely ignored the main issue here, which is Google’s inherent bias against rivals firms. Although it may be forced to write more of its own content – no big deal for someone with the resources of Google – and while it may be more closely monitored, the deal in no way threatens to upset Google’s market dominance. Its search results will likely be the same as they were before, and Fairsearch will only be forced into taking alternative action.
For Google, if the plan is accepted, it would mark a second major success in seven days, after it came to a similar deal with the FTC over its Motorola patents. That particular case began amid concerns that Motorola was engaging in anti-competitive litigation against rivals, and is also expected to end imminently following an agreement that Google will license all standards-essential patents it holds for reasonable prices.