US regulators could be close to ending its investigation against Google as early as this Thursday, according to Bloomberg. Amid allegations that the search engine giant had abused its patents and power when it came to mobile and search offerings, the Federal Trade Commission may be looking to settle the case.
After 20 months of probing through all of Google’s records, Bloomberg says that Google has agreed to make “voluntary changes to some of its business practices and settle allegations that it misused patents to thwart competitors in smartphone technology.” Back in June 2011, the FTC served civil subpoenas to Google that kickstarted a broad antitrust investigation into the company’s performance and alleged abuse regarding its web dominance.
Several months later, Microsoft filed a complaint with the FTC claiming that Google had illegally changed its advertising rates that affected the Redmond-based company. According to the complaint, Google had raised prices for ads Microsoft was paying for alongside queries such as ‘hotmail’ 50 fold. Bloomberg also reported at the time:
The Federal Trade Commission is probing the increase, along with other allegations against Google related to advertising, as a result of complaints from Microsoft, according to the person, who wasn’t authorized to publicly comment. The complaints are being examined as part of a larger antitrust probe into Google that began earlier this year, the person said.
Google had sought to have this case resolved earlier and even FTC Chairman Jon Leibwitz said he hoped to wrap up this lengthy investigation in December. Instead it got delayed, most likely as a result of the European Union’s parallel investigation that took a more hard line approach to Google.
The FairSearch.org coalition, a group that includes Microsoft and Expedia, two companies that have filed complaints against the search engine, says that the potential settlement was unwise: “If the FTC fails to take decisive action to end Google’s anti-competitive practices, and locks itself out of any remedies to Google’s conduct that are offered in Europe later this month, the FTC will have acted prematurely and failed in its mission of protecting America’s consumers”
It is continuing to urge the FTC to investigate the complaint and says that the group “remains convinced that US consumers and innovators deserve the same protections that the European Commission may adopt in Europe. Consumers will fail to reap the benefits of a truly competitive online marketplace if Google is allowed to pick and choose where it biases its search results.”
It’s important to note that the any deal right now is not final and things could change over the next 24 hours. With the recent successful confirmation of a new FTC commissioner on Tuesday, things might get a bit interesting. As TNW’s Alex Wilhelm explained, Joshua Wright has been benched for two years with respect to all cases involving the search engine. Why? Because he has “received funding from Google for some of his academic research.” As a result of his recusal, the FTC now will have four commissioners overseeing the case and that could change things.
We’ll keep you updated as this story develops.
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