Washington

Google Fans, Foes Weigh In on FTC Decision

Groups find clouds and silver linings 1/03/2013 04:27:33 PM Eastern

Reaction was swift, and mixed, to the Federal Trade
Commission's settlement with Google
over allegations of anticompetitive
conduct.

That "mixed" reaction even extended to two
different groups, both of which claim Microsoft among its membership.

Ed Black, president of the Computer and Communications
Industry Association, whose members include Google and Google critic and search
competitor Microsoft, called the FTC's decision not to proceed with a case
against Google for anticompetitive search allegations "the right
call."

"As this investigation illustrates, the market for answering
consumers' questions is dynamic and changing rapidly," Black said in a
statement. "Traditional search engines are just one part of this expanding
ecosystem.  Locking Google or any company into a 1998 version of Web
search would have harmed users and sent the wrong signal to companies looking
to evolve their business models to effectively compete in the rapidly evolving Internet
marketplace."

But Black also found cause for concern, specifically
Google's voluntary commitment to allow entities to opt out of its specialized
results pages, which he sees as a potential threat to fair use rights. "I
understand why Google, which has been offering websites an opt-out provision
for some time now, was willing to offer additional opt-outs for its specialized
results pages, but we do not believe the company was under any legal obligation
to do so. Other companies should not interpret this agreement as
diminishing their fair use rights in any way," he said.

The Progressive Policy Institute also saw the FTC decision
as the right one. "The FTC has shown how regulators can be innovation-friendly,"
said PPI chief economic strategist Michael Mandel in a statement. "Given the
importance of innovation for American job growth and competitiveness, the FTC
is setting a great example for other agencies." 

FairSearch.org, whose members include Google search
competitors Expedia, Hotwire, Kayak -- and Microsoft -- called the FTC decision
"disappointing and premature, coming just weeks before the company is
expected to make a formal and detailed proposal to resolve the four abuses of
dominance identified by the European Commission, first among them biased
display of its own properties in search results."

According to a source on background, Microsoft was planning
to weigh in on its own blog, likely making clear it came down on the
"disappointed" side of the ledger.

The American Antitrust Institute had taken no position on
the investigation because it could not reach a consensus on what law Google had
violated or what remedy would be effective.

The FTC closed its search investigation into Google without
a finding that it represented actionable anticompetitive conduct, but Google
separate volunteered changes to its search business that are binding and
enforceable.

"The issues relating to search manipulation allegations
are complex, not only with respect to pinning down a theory of antitrust
liability but also with respect to determining an effective remedy once
liability has been determined," AAI said in a statement. "While we
would have preferred to see a consent order that binds Google, it is
nevertheless significant that Google has made commitments that deal with many
of the most important allegations. We believe the result will be more
transparency for the user, more flexibility for advertisers to leave Google,
and fewer complaints about screen scraping. The FTC must monitor on-going
activities to ensure that these commitments are adequate."

March