Report: FTC Ready To Give Google Antitrust “Ultimatum”

According to a piece in the Wall Street Journal today and a parallel Bloomberg report Google faces an increasingly likely antitrust complaint unless the company steps up and offers some concessions (or additional concessions) in settlement discussions with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

According to Bloomberg, US FTC Chairman Jonathan Leibowitz is “pressing” Google to settle potential antitrust claims “in the next few days or face a formal complaint.” This is according to “people familiar with the situation.”

The phrase “people familiar with the situation” suggests FTC employees who want to put more public pressure on Google to settle. As with previous press reports regarding an impending or increasingly likely antitrust complaint against Google, some of this is “negotiating in public.”

As Bloomberg points out the FTC completed its year-long investigation into Google recently and was delaying its decision about filing a complaint until after the election. Now that the election is over it’s “put up or shut up” time. The contention is that four of the five FTC commissioners are in favor of an antitrust action against Google.

There are many people, and some on both sides of the aisle in government, who feel Google is a monopolist and harming internet competition. However, proving antitrust violations in litigation would be more challenging than simply citing comScore data. There are some very specific legal requirements that must be met. It’s far from clear that the government would succeed at trial.

However the FTC may ultimately be compelled to file a complaint to add further pressure to force Google to settle. This latest report perhaps reflects FTC Chairman Leibowitz’s effort to avoid litigation but still be able to claim victory.

Across the pond, European antitrust settlement discussions with Google appear to have quieted down, with no news for the past several weeks. This follows a period intensifying activity and public statements from European regulators.

It’s unlikely, though now possible, that Google would be litigating separate antitrust cases on two continents simultaneously.

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Google: Antitrust | Google: Critics | Google: Legal | Top News

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • http://twitter.com/MiamiSEM Miami SEM

    FCC is going to ask for a separation of Adwords and Search.

    Is it a surprise that after their “search quality updates” clicks on ads and CPC grew by 30-40%?? Have you ever asked Google about that Greg?

    If FCC succeeds, you can kiss Panda and their enormous (and illegal) profits goodbye.

  • http://www.facebook.com/romhanyi Les Romhanyi

    While an anti-trust case may be hard to win the court of public opinion is much easier. I have to wonder just how much longer people and businesses are going to allow Google to bully them into abiding by their vision of what the Internet should be.

    As far as Google search goes; I have to admit that I like some of the moves that they have been doing lately in the name of bringing us less spammy results. However, I am also getting a little tired of having to filter through all of the Google products that show up at the top of the search results. Further when doing certain product based searches I can’t defend Google now offering multiple page 1 and 2 results from the same sites such as Amazon,Target and eBay.

    I suppose one could argue that Google offers more results from the same sites in the organic search results in an effort to put more focus on searchers to use their paid placements. If that were the case then this would be more beneficial to Google and their bottom line than the searcher but hey I guess we can always just go to Bing for search if it bothers us. To be honest I do that more and more everyday and I can see that happening with a lot more people in the future.

  • http://ftc.gov/ MonopolizedSearch

    The FTC acts like Google’s lap dog instead of using its regulatory authority to protect consumers and a free marketplace. Why do our tax dollars go to fund an agency that waits on Google to toss them a bone? I say abolish the FTC and create a new agency that will not let violators write the rules, set settlement terms and determine fines (if any).

  • http://www.inbound.co.uk/ Nick Pateman

    I probably have a minority opinion, but Google is the only one that leads and innovates this industry. Bing is doing its best to compete, leave the market as it is.

  • http://www.jchweb.co.uk/ Jack Hutchinson

    I’m with you Nick – Google dominate the search market because they created a search experience better than their competitors. They then built a very successful brand around that and have now expanded profitably into various other markets. Surely that is the way any business should work?

  • Jathan Lane

    Its Better the USA than CHINA! Remember this is a world economy. The FTC should not stick their nose in global competition.

  • Durant Imboden

    There already IS a separation of AdWords and search.

  • http://www.v2interactive.net/ Josh

    A light shade of yellow?

  • http://twitter.com/MiamiSEM Miami SEM

    Separation as in totally separate as companies, not a faint and almost invisible yellow color. Google, as ad click increases and penalties show, manipulates Search to increase it’s Adwords revenue. Many are purposefully forced to advertise because Google has cut off their organic traffic. Almost every time I just see advertisers on top ten results, of course after I scroll and scroll to skip the ads and other junk.

    Once again, stats on ad clicks and CPC provided by Google do not lie. Google has increased Adwords ad clicks and revenue by over 30% each quarter in a post Panda world (as search share is flat) How stupid do we make us to be?

    Google Search is illegally manipulated and very actively.

  • http://twitter.com/MiamiSEM Miami SEM

    Separation as in totally separate as companies, not a faint and almost invisible yellow color. Google, as ad click increases and penalties show, manipulates Search to increase it’s Adwords revenue. Many are purposefully forced to advertise because Google has cut off their organic traffic. Almost every time I just see advertisers on top ten results, of course after I scroll and scroll to skip the ads and other junk.

    Once again, stats on ad clicks and CPC provided by Google do not lie. Google has increased Adwords ad clicks and revenue by over 30% each quarter in a post Panda world (as search share is flat) How stupid do we make us to be?

    Google Search is illegally manipulated and very actively.

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