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March 20, 2015

Google – the great Internet fixer?

FTC officials in 2012 concluded that Google had used anticompetitive tactics.

By CBR Staff Writer

An undisclosed Federal Trade Commission report from 2012 has surfaced, which indicates how Google abused its power to manipulate search results and used anticompetitive tactics to harm rivals and mislead users.

The Wall Street Journal cited that staffers in the FTC’s bureau of competition discovered that Google promoted its own services for travel, local businesses and shopping by changing its ranking criteria and "scraping" content from other sites.

According to reports, the search giant’s business practices are still relevant as earlier this month it launched car-insurance quotes, a tool already offered by by Allstate and Esurance.

Similarly the company has also improved and expanded its hotel listings to battle against TripAdvisor and Expedia.

Google rivals have been verbal about the misuse of its search dominance, as during the investigation, Yelp publically complained that the search giant plagiarised its reviews to boost its own local listings, and alleges that Google is still engaged in anticompetitive behaviour.

According to the findings, Google also constrained websites that published its search results from collaborating with competing search engines, and it did not allow data gathered from its ad campaigns to be used in campaigns with other services.

However, eventually FTC asked Google to discontinue with the practice as it was harming competitors. FTC ended the investigation into the anti-competitive practices after the search major agreed to carry out some voluntary changes.

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The settlement between FTC and Google however is different from the findings of the investigation, which found that "it will result — in real harm to consumers and to innovation in the online search and advertising markets."

The publication cited Google general counsel Kent Walker as saying: "After an exhaustive 19-month review, covering nine million pages of documents and many hours of testimony, the FTC staff and all five FTC Commissioners agreed that there was no need to take action on how we rank and display search results.

"We regularly change our search algorithms and make over 500 changes a year to help our users get the information they want.

"We created search for users, not websites — and that focus has driven our improvements over the last decade."

Under the settlement, Google agreed to give online advertisers more flexibility to simultaneously manage ad campaigns on Google’s AdWords platform and on rival ad platforms; and to refrain from misappropriating online content from so-called "vertical" websites that focus on specific categories such as shopping or travel for use in its own vertical offerings

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz had said at that time, "The changes Google has agreed to make will ensure that consumers continue to reap the benefits of competition in the online marketplace and in the market for innovative wireless devices they enjoy.

"This was an incredibly thorough and careful investigation by the Commission, and the outcome is a strong and enforceable set of agreements."

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