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Google emerges from FTC probe relatively unscathed
Antitrust » Resolution disappoints rivals, consumer advocates, cheers others.


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Google’s tactics also have been extremely lucrative. Although Google has branched into smartphones and many other fields since its founding in a Silicon Valley garage in 1998, Internet search and advertising remains its financial backbone. The intertwined services still generate more than 90 percent of Google’s revenue, which now exceeds $50 billion annually.

Throughout the FTC investigation, Google executives also sought to debunk the notion that the company’s recommendations are the final word on the Internet. They pointed out that consumers easily could go to Microsoft’s Bing, Yahoo or other services to search for information. "Competition is just a click away," became as much of a Google mantra as the company’s official motto: "Don’t be evil."

At a glance

Google’s interactions with U.S. regulators over the years

March 2011 » Google agrees to adopt a comprehensive privacy program to settle federal charges that it deceived users and violated its own privacy policy when it launched a social networking service called Buzz.

April 2011 » Justice Department clears Google’s purchase of airline fare tracker ITA Software. However, it imposes conditions, including a requirement for Google to license the technology to other companies on reasonable terms until 2016.

June 2011 » Google confirms that the Federal Trade Commission is looking into whether the company has been abusing its dominance of Internet search and advertising to stifle competition as it expands into other lucrative online markets, such as mapping, comparison shopping and travel.

August 2011 » Google agrees to pay $500 million to settle a federal investigation into the Internet search leader’s distribution of online ads from Canadian pharmacies illegally selling prescription and non-prescription drugs to American consumers.

August 2012 » The FTC announces that Google has agreed to pay a $22.5 million fine to settle allegations that it broke a privacy promise by secretly tracking the online activities of millions of people who use Apple’s Safari Web browser. It’s the largest penalty ever imposed by the FTC.

January 2013 » Google settles the antitrust probe with the FTC without major concessions to its search formula.

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Microsoft had no immediate comment. But FairSearch, a group whose membership includes Microsoft, call the FTC’s settlement "disappointing and premature," given that European regulators might be able to force Google to make more extensive changes.

"The FTC’s inaction on the core question of search bias will only embolden Google to act more aggressively to misuse its monopoly power to harm other innovators," FairSearch asserted.

Yelp also criticized the FTC’s handling of the case, calling "it a missed opportunity to protect innovation in the Internet economy, and the consumers and businesses that rely upon it."

Investors had already been anticipating Google would emerge from the inquiry relatively unscathed.

Google’s stock rose 42 cents Thursday to close at $723.67. Microsoft, which is based in Redmond, Wash., shed 37 cents, or 1.3 percent, to finish at $27.25.

In a research note Thursday, Macquarie Securities analyst Benjamin Schachter described the settlement as "the best possible outcome" for Google. "We believe that the terms of the agreement will have very limited negative financial or strategic implications for the company." Schachter wrote.




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