Google Settles, But Concedes Little

Last Thursday, Google struck a deal with the Federal Trade Commission to end one of the most closely watched anti-trust probes in recent years. But Google’s competitors claim that the settlement terms leave the Internet search giant largely unscathed.

Here are three big takeaways from the decision:

  1. Google will license key patents on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms.When Google bought Motorola Mobility, it acquired the company’s patent portfolio, hundreds of which are essential for smartphones, tablets, and other devices offering wireless connectivity and hi-def video. To enable these devices to interact seamlessly, tech companies decided to standardize certain components and license key patents on “fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory terms.” With this settlement, Google agreed to abide by that industry standard and license key Motorola patents.
  2. Google will give marketers more control over their ads. Google also agreed to lift certain restrictions that made it difficult for businesses to coordinate online ad campaigns across multiple search platforms, like Google’s AdWords. It also agreed to limit its use of competitors’ content – like user reviews and star ratings – in its own services, such as Google Local and Google Product Search. But Google had all but abandoned this practice already.
  3. Much to Microsoft’s dismay, the FTC won’t pursue action on allegations of Google’s search bias. Microsoft (which runs the Bing search engine) and smaller competitors alike complain that Google search results unfairly promote links to its own listings and services. The FTC acknowledged that although “Google took aggressive action to gain advantage over rival search providers,” the FTC’s “mission is to protect competition and not individual competitors.” Plus, Google argued and the FTC agreed that the barrier of entry for search engines is so low that many alternatives are easily accessible.

Stay tuned. Next up, Google still must answer to similar investigations by European regulators and U.S. state attorneys general.

So, is Microsoft right – do these concessions lack any real bite?