Hill Weighs In On Google Settlement

Northern Calif. Dems all smiles; Judiciary Republican says subcommittee will monitor compliance
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Members of the 113th Congress, which held its
first session Thursday, weighed in on the Federal Trade Commission's Google
decision, but with signals from at least one congressman that would not be the
end of the story.

A
pair of House members representing high-tech constituents in Northern California, including Google,
praised the FTC's conclusion that Google's search algorithms were primarily
meant to improve the customer experience and not favor its content for anticompetitive
purposes. The FTC also required Google to make essential patents it acquired
from Motorola available to competitors on reasonable terms.

"Following
its investigation, the FTC's settlement with Google strikes an appropriate
balance that protects consumers and preserves innovation," Rep. Eshoo said. "At
a time when the market for smartphones, tablets and other wireless devices
continues to flourish, the settlement ensures that competitors will have access
to the patents essential to powering these key technologies," said Rep
Anna Eshoo (D-Calif. [Palo Alto]). "Furthermore,
despite a thorough investigation into allegations of search bias, the FTC
ultimately decided against taking action that could hinder innovation and
consumer choice. I applaud this decision, which recognizes the evolving
Internet search market and the exciting innovations that have been the hallmark
of the Internet to date," she added.

Rep.
Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif. [San Jose]) said she was
pleased the FTC had produced an enforceable agreement -- Google agreed to
modify certain problematic search business practices like scraping others'
content --"without impermissibly expanding the jurisdictional reach of the
FTC."

Both
legislators had expressed concern that the FTC would use its antitrust
authority over unfair methods of competition to find that Google search fell
under that provision
."

While
FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said Google's search did not violate any laws, he
did stick by Section 5 authority as a way to address unfair methods of online
search competition where there were such violations.

Sen.
Mike Lee (R-Utah) was less effusive. He is ranking member of the Senate
Antitrust Subcommittee, which held a hearing on Google in September 2011
entitled "The Power of Google: Serving Consumers or Threatening
Competition?"

Lee asked some of the toughest questions at the hearing, saying the FTC needed
determine "whether Google's actions violate antitrust law or substantially
harm consumers or competition" in an industry that is a "driving
force in the American economy." 

The
FTC concluded that they did not, at least given the changes Google promised to
make, which Lee saw as definite steps in the right direction, though not the
end of the road as far as Washington was concerned.

"Google's
commitment to allow advertisers to export ad campaign data to other platforms
will enhance meaningful competition in the market for Internet
advertising," he said. "And Google's promise not to misappropriate
content from other websites will help ensure the company does not abuse its
dominant position to inhibit competition among vertical search sites."

But
he said the subcommittee will be watching. "Along with the FTC, our
Subcommittee will seek to make certain that Google abides by these commonsense
commitments. Although these voluntary actions represent an important step in
the right direction, today's agreement does not address all the concerns about
anticompetitive conduct raised at our Subcommittee hearing. We will continue to
work with antitrust authorities to help ensure robust competition in the
Internet search arena so that consumer welfare is maximized."

As
to requiring the company to share its standard essential patents (SEPs), he
said he was glad to see it. "A reliable standards-setting process, through
which participants promise to license contributed technology on reasonable
terms, is essential to interoperability and consumer choice. I look forward to
reviewing the precise contours of the consent order prohibiting Google and its
subsidiaries from seeking an injunction or exclusion order against willing
licensees, and I remain committed to helping ensure that standard-essential
patents are not abused in an anticompetitive manner."

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