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Google Close to Having an FTC Case on Its Hands For Abusing Search Results

Google is soon to be in hot water with the FTC again if the latest report out of Reuters is to be believed. An investigation into whether Google wrongly used its ownership of Google Search to promote their products above products of rival companies has been underway for a while now. 4 out of the 5 investigators of this case are recommending legal action against Google for these allegations.

Apparently there is a “long list” of companies that have filed complaints against Google under this claim. Last month, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said that he expected a decision in the case by the end of the year. If the FTC feels that they have a case, Google could negotiate a settlement out of court, but if that doesn’t work this could go before a judge. A decision should be reached sometime soon, until then we have to wait and see if Google broke the law in ranking their search results.

Via: Reuters

  • Steven02

    The FTC should only get involved to protect the customer. It isn’t there to protect other businesses. If Google is harming the customer, then there could be an issue. But, we live in a world with yahoo, bing, ask and other search engines. People choose the search engine that they want to use. It costs nothing to switch.

    Now, when I search for stuff on Amazon, it doesn’t always seem to come up with the best priced item first. Items fulfilled by Amazon seem to come up first. Honestly, I don’t care. I know how to find what I am looking for. I can *gasp* scroll down.

  • Andy Tapparo

    This is like investigating a Chevrolet dealer for selling……….(gasp!!)….CHEVIES!! C’mon. What do people expect?!?!

  • Trust-Me-Im-A-Lawyer

    Yeah, we are going to fine you for promoting your products on your service that you provide for billions of people for free. I would like to get off this world now.

  • Mark

    That’s odd. I posted a link to a very informative article about this from one of the most respected search engine and search marketing news sites, and it never got uploaded. I don’t work for them, and they don’t work for Google. It’s just news about anything search related. Anyway… If you would like more understanding of the issue: http://searchengineland.com/the-majority-of-ftc-commissioners-want-to-nail-google-with-antitrust-case-136471

  • Mark

    To better understand what’s really going on, here’s an article from one of the leading search engine sites: http://searchengineland.com/the-majority-of-ftc-commissioners-want-to-nail-google-with-antitrust-case-136471

  • Velmeran

    Article above is rather misleading.

    If you read the original story from Reuters it sounds like the
    problem isn’t advertising their own products (ala the Nexus 7 on the
    homepage a while back); it’s that certain competitors are claiming
    Google is skewing their actual search results in order to give those
    competitors a lower ranking, than google’s own services.

    Quote from the article:
    “Google rivals specializing in travel, shopping and entertainment have accused Google, the world’s No. 1 search engine, of unfairly giving their web sites low quality rankings in search results to steer Internet users away from their websites and toward Google products that provide similar services.”

    Other little tidbit from the Reuters article was this little gem:
    “In a related issue, the FTC is looking at Google’s handling of valuable patents, which are determined to be essential to smartphones. The agency is trying to determine if they are licensed fairly and whether patent infringement lawsuits are used to hamper innovation.”

    Would be curious if the FTC is also looking at Apple in how they handler their patents.

  • Guest

    Article above is rather misleading.

    If you read the original story from Reuters it sounds like the problem isn’t advertising their own products (ala the Nexus 7 on the homepage a while back); it’s that certain competitors are claiming Google is skewing their actual search results in order to give those competitors a lower ranking, than google’s own services.

    Quote from the article:
    “Google rivals specializing in travel, shopping
    and entertainment have accused Google, the world’s No. 1 search engine,
    of unfairly giving their web sites low quality rankings in search
    results to steer Internet users away from their websites and toward
    Google products that provide similar services.”

    Other little tidbit from the Reuters artcile was this little gem:
    “In a related issue, the FTC is looking at
    Google’s handling of valuable patents, which are determined to be
    essential to smartphones. The agency is trying to determine if they are
    licensed fairly and whether patent infringement lawsuits are used to
    hamper innovation.”

    Would be curious if the FTC is also looking at Apple in how they handler their patents.

  • Straylight

    Every time I hear this stuff, I think of all the companies who have totally misunderstood what google does. Silly companies making outlandish claims that google has biased results because THEIR company has moved down in search results.
    I have to wonder how many of these claims are true versus a misunderstanding.

  • teevirus

    Does Google have an internal wall between its Search/Adds people and the folks who actually make products for enterprise and consumer customers?

    • http://www.engadget.com/ Jon Fingas

      Probably not much of one. Android is free because Google makes its revenue through ads from all those on-by-default Google services. Enterprise is safer, but that’s also because those customers pay for services without ads.

  • JabroniUNM

    Absolutely ridiculous… how dare they advertise their own products… on their product. Our society is completely out of control!

  • Nick

    Doesn’t Amazon do this with the Kindle?

    • New_Guy

      100% Their website is full of kindle ads and search results for anything reader related will not surprise you about what you find as the top results. not sure what this is about but I hope it’s not true. It just seesm that the legal world is after Google lately. But hey, like Biggy said, “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.”

    • jada

      They’ll probably get sued sooner or later too. How long has Google search been around? It took a while for this to happen.

  • ch303

    This is how the world works, why would they promote someones elses product over their own? If other companies want to advertise their products, they should pay for advertising..

  • http://twitter.com/Spitefulrain Joshua Milburn

    To me, this case would be stupid. Google can’t advertise their own products on their own website?

  • http://www.jaxidian.org/update teh Jax

    Is iTunes going to be banned from promoting other Apple products over Google and Microsoft products? Is the xBox going to be banned from promoting other Microsoft products over Google and Apple products?

    I get keeping a monopoly or giant from squashing competition, but sometimes regulatory bodies need to either be a bit more hands-off or need to step back and make sure that they’re enforcing “fairness” in an equal way. I mean, Apple admittedly squashes competition by refusing to allow competing apps to be sold to iOS users – this is a HUGE anti-competitive action if I’ve ever heard one!

    I’m not saying Google should be able to use its search engine to squash competition – I’m just saying, these FTC folk do kinda pick favorites and declare war on enemies without a clear idea on being fair.

    • mcdonsco

      Well, with Apple though people can just choose to not buy Apple stuff, which i did for the reasons you mentioned, i didnt like the idea that my growing media library would be 100% locked into only being useable on/in Apple products, be it ipads, iphones or itunes…so i bailed…i have nothing apple now.

      With this, probably a majority of computers, phones, tablets etc have google as their home page already and then poof, theres a nifty new product advertised right there that gets into hundreds of millions (billions?) of faces immediately…pretty big advantage. But as i mentioned in my other post, its their website, they should be able to advertise their own products on it.

      As for MS, ive never understood the problem people have with them other than the lack of alternate choices when buying a new computer, people/businesses etc CHOOSE MS, especially now that there are a lot of linux choices from OEM’s, yet they still choose MS…all it will take to dethrone MS is an advanve in tech from someone else, far fetched maybe, but not impossible, linux is continually gaining ground there and once linux reaches the point of ease of use that my mom coyld easily use a computer with it, that will be when MS may be in trouble of losing the crown, theyre getting closer all the time.

      • http://www.jaxidian.org/update teh Jax

        The same can be said for Apple vs Microsoft. Apple was just boasting how it had 62% of the tablet market, right? Sure, I can choose to buy a non-Apple tablet but that means I’m buying the unpopular things (think your average consumer here since that’s what these anti-competitive laws are here to protect). That’s really also no different than the fact that I can also choose to buy a non-Microsoft-powered PC (there’s Apple, Linux, and Google/Chromium/Android powered desktops now). So how is that any different other than the form factor?

        Now, I agree with most of your points but I do think one of your points is in conflict with another one. I can choose to use a non-Google search engine and I can choose to buy a non-Windows desktop/laptop. So how does the fact that I can buy a non-Apple product have anything to do with it? On the tablet form factor, Apple has the majority of the market share (unless they are lying which wouldn’t exactly surprise me). And how does that mean MS and Google need to be smacked down by the FTC but not Apple?

      • bigillz

        What the?? “people can just choose to not buy Apple stuff”. Google is a free website providing a free search service. No one is tied to Google except by choice. Bing? Yahoo? If any manufacturer chooses to set Google as a default, so be it. If HP decides to set HP.com as a default on HP computers and HP.com has a search that favors HP, that’s completely legitimate, and no different than using Google as default if they have a business agreement with Google.

      • trumpet444

        “””Well, with Apple though people can just choose to not buy Apple stuff, “” ……. With this, probably a majority of computers, phones, tablets etc have google as their home page already””

        Damn, I must be some kind of genius. I figured out a way to change my home page!!!!!!!!!!

  • http://twitter.com/KansasJayhawker Jonathan Reid

    Can someone give me an analogy that will help explain why this is illegal?

    • http://www.engadget.com/ Jon Fingas

      Think of it this way. Let’s say you’ve got a dominant supermarket chain with its own food brands. Everyone would expect that store to carry and promote its own brands along with others. However, let’s say you decide to deliberately relegate all competing food brands to a dark corner in the back of the store. As the clear majority in supermarkets, you’re making it tough or impossible for any rival food brand to compete — they have to use your store to get meaningful sales, but they’ll never have a shot at your kind of market share because most people won’t even notice that alternatives exist.

      • trumpet444

        The alternative brands should then open their own chain of supermarkets or specialty stores and be successful at it. The same reason Apple has their own stores, they don’t just rely on Best Buy to do the best job selling their product

        • http://www.engadget.com/ Jon Fingas

          And that’s how monopolies are entrenched. All you need to do is… spend millions of dollars and years of effort, neither of which might be options. It’s why many US cities only have one or two realistic Internet provider choices: cable and telephone companies count on it being too expensive for anyone but an established giant to compete.

          Same is true for having businesses dependent on search. You can’t just say “start your own search engine.” Microsoft loses hundreds of millions of dollars every quarter keeping Bing alive; what’s the likelihood that an ad network or information provider can justify getting into a full search engine just to offer competition?

          Again, this is how antitrust law works. It’s a valid claim when it’s unrealistic for competitors to fight back against unfair practices. The FTC didn’t tell browser makers to “just start a new desktop operating system and have it become mainstream” as an alternative to being snubbed by Microsoft; it forced Microsoft to make balance changes that helped everyone much sooner.

    • r0lct

      Best I can do quickly: Pretend there was no brick and mortar stores. Amazon handled the vast majority of all retail sales.

      Amazon tell you they return product results based on your terms and not based on sponsors. However there will be sponsored products labeled as such with your regular results.

      Now you go to Amazon to purchase a TV and even though Samsung, Vizio etc products best fits the product you searched for the TV made by Amazon comes up first and not labeled as sponsored. This would trick the person into believing it was actually the best product as opposed to just being secretly sponsored.

      At least that’s how I see it.

      • trumpet444

        Pretty good explanation. And while that would be very immoral, it should not be illegal. The burden of responsibility should be on the consumer to not just rely on one website’s opinion or result, even if it is the most used. When I buy a new TV I don’t just walk into a Best Buy and buy the first one that an employee recommends. That would be stupid. I research plenty of websites, ask for opinions of family or friends, and go into a number of stores and check them out in person. Then, after a few weeks or so, I make an informed decision and buy the TV that’s best for me. There should not be laws protecting this type of stupidity and/or gullibility

  • mcdonsco

    Allegations? They did do it, i saw it. At the time i dint think much about it, but after reading this, yea, that would give them a massive boost over the competition…then again, its their site, why cant they advertise their products on their site.

    • http://twitter.com/oharvey2090 Owen Harvey

      The argument isn’t against whether they should be allowed to show a picture of their tablet, but rather that they are ranking their tablet at the top of results when someone searches for something like “Android Tablets”

      • mcdonsco

        Maybe i mis-understood, i thought it was because when it launched they featured it on the home page (no search done at all, just on http://www.google.com), never heard or read (even here) anything about them ranking it high in search results…? But, i would think it would naturally / organically rank really high, at the top, anyway for such searches?

      • trumpet444

        But shouldn’t they be allowed to do that as well? Starbucks doesn’t sell or advertise Foldgers in their stores, and nor should they. And if you ask a barista or even the CEO of Starbucks, “who’s coffee is better, yours or Foldgers?”. He’s gonna say Starbucks is, whether it is or isn’t. This type of self interest shouldn’t be regulated. You should try both and figure it out for yourself and not rely on someone’s word as gospel. If you do, and you end up with an inferior product, then you deserve what you bought

  • OhAaron

    :/ Google is scaring me. I hope they know what they’re doing. They are getting sued all over the place.

    • Steven02

      They are getting sued b/c they have money. Nothing new about this.

  • Andrey Feldman

    This is bullsh*t, google owns google search and they can show you whatever results they want. Nowhere does it say “google will show you indifferent results”. Google is a business and they want you to use their products. Laissez Faire my ass!

    • http://www.facebook.com/metalmatze1234 Along Came Morgi

      still they have contracts they get paid for…

    • Mark

      The Google site’s main purpose is to show ads paid for by other companies. Depending on the terms of the ads, favoring one product over another could be problem for Google.

      Google’s actions seems very Applish on this.

      • Andrey Feldman

        Ads still show up at the top and on the side. This doesn’t interfere with ads.

        • New_Guy

          Not at all. This is like Droid Life having to display Apple products on the side. It’s a Google owned website and Google forces no one to advertise in their space nor do they force their product on anyone else. They need to start including that as part of the agreement that Google has the right to show ads on any portion of their website and however often they deem fit.

        • michael arazan

          If I’m paying Google $10 million a year to advertise my product and my competitor is paying Google $2 million a year, why should they get top billing?
          It will probably wind up having to look at Google’s business practices though on how they receive funds for advertisements and the placements of them. in the contracts they sign I’m sure its specified what you get for what you pay for.

      • trumpet444

        It still should not be a legal problem. Radio programs, tv shows, webpages do this all the time. Favor one ad over another. The only problem I could see is IF they breached a contract with someone – as in taking money from a company to show their ad or search result at the top and ended up not doing it

    • Alan

      Microsoft got punished for trying to force IE. Also, more recently in Europe, having IE installed by default is illegal and now they have to show users a list of browsers to choose from on first installation.

      • ddevito

        that’s not [entirely] the same thing. The IE issue was a platform/vendor lock-in issue.

        Web surfers can simply go to bing.com or yahoo.com, etc. There was no such [provided] alternative for the IE issue

        • trumpet444

          But should it be their responsibility to provide the user an alternative to IE? I wouldn’t think so

          • ddevito

            I see both sides of the argument…

            But to go against MSFT, there wasn’t much of an alternative besides buying a Mac.

          • Tony Allen

            No but it should be their responsibility to make sure if we want another browser, we can obtain one.

      • trumpet444

        Have people ever gotten pissy about Safari coming installed with OSX? Microsoft SHOULD be able to force IE. If the shareholders and customers don’t like it, then it’ll stop or they’ll fail. Should never have been a legal issue.

        • Jeffrey Garcia

          I agree. But I think that in the case of Safari, Apple of course makes their own hardware and software. Not to mention OSX isn’t open source, while Windows and Android are. But yea, it shouldn’t be a legal issue.

          • eoked

            Windows isn’t open source.

      • Tony Allen

        That’s quite a bit different considering Google doesn’t make you use Google Chrome.. much less Google’s search engine. People choose Google because its a powerful tool, nobody is stopping them from going to Yahoo or Bing.

    • http://twitter.com/humancyborg Human Cyborg

    • LeChuck

      I sure don’t want a company manipulating search results.

      What if what I’m looking for is better provided by another company than Google? Maybe information from Yelp would be better than from Google’s database. Maybe Google’s travel information isn’t that great on a particular destination when compared to some other site. Maybe Google’s comparison shopping page isn’t as good as another site.

      If Google does manipulate their search results then the search users are the ones getting hurt.

      • ticker47
      • curaga

        This. I’m no expert on what economic regulations will best encourage the growth of our economy but Google manipulating their search results could very well prevent me from finding the best possible result for whatever I’m searching for.

        This is bad for the user.

      • F. Sharok

        Exactly. This will be bad for users if it keeps up. Right now, Google still gives me better results on average but Bing is getting close. If Google continues this alleged action then their search results will take a hit.

      • Andrey Feldman

        Then use your best judgement when deciding whether to click on the first link or the second. When I search for something I don’t go “Hey look its the first link, I’ll click on it!” I look at what’s available and click on what I think is a better result for my search.

        • alfonso

          Sometimes you can’t evaluate a result with the short summary Google gives you so you have to click on it. This wastes time and just a bad overall user experience that doesn’t need to happen. Also, the average person may not continue on to the 3rd or lower results because think Google does no evil and ranks their results without bias.

          I wonder if Bing shows manipulated results too. I’d have to check it out and compare results. This whole thing made me decide to see if Google still is the best search engine today.

          • wtm1417

            hey go use Bing then. Google isn’t at your desk with a gun to your head. Then you might have a lawsuit… Same as capitalism, the market will govern itself so vote ywith your money in a roundabout method.

          • Jeff

            Laws aside, why are you okay with Google manipulating search results? It can’t possibly be good for you. Are you okay doing extra work to get to the better results? I don’t understand all the comments defending Google by saying “it’s their site” and “go somewhere else.”

          • Brandon White

            I’m ok with Google manipulating my search results. Its a free service that they let me use, they can do what they want with it. No one is making you use it. It is not a need, its a luxury. If you’re so concerned with their search results why can’t you use a competitors site to do searching?

          • drathos

            Where’s your proof that Google is manipulating search results to boost their products? If you search for things like “web browser” or “free email,” their services show up in the results, but almost never at the top. There’s usually 4 or 5 things (sometimes more) before them, and there’s always a competitor or two before them. “Maps” lists Google Maps first, but I suspect the exact match boosts the rank – “online maps” lists it 4th after sites like MapQuest and Rand McNally.

            IMHO, this whole thing is BS.

      • bigillz

        Really? Google isn’t a government service guys. They’re a for-profit company. They should (and likely do, though may have to fight it legally) have the right to do whatever the hell they want with their search, from returning only their results to shutting it down entirely. Unless they’re taking government coin and concessions, what right does anyone have to impose restrictions on their operations, other than a majority vote of shareholders?

        • tom

          Regulations and oversight exist to prevent these kinds of things. In the end, users are the ones getting screwed. You should study up on economics. May read up on how our recession occurred too.

          • bigillz

            We have a free market my friend. The government does not exist to regulate internet search results. It is not a matter of public welfare, nor does consumer protection apply to a freely offered service with no claim to impartiality. Nor is their any precedent for claims of “harm” due to filtered search results from said free services. And your apparent supposition that I’m an idiot is quite lovely.

          • Tom

            We do not have a free market. There are regulations.

          • trumpet444

            There is a fine line between over regulation and state socialism. If the state gets to the point where it can regulate every single move a company makes, it is simply state control.

          • Anderson

            A purely free economy won’t last. Letting Google freely manipulate search results will likely have a negative impact in the future except for Google, of course.

          • Brandon White

            Then don’t be a user and find someone else to use. No one is forcing you to use Google.

          • trumpet444

            I think tom is a socialist anyway. Probably never get through to him

          • trumpet444

            Yeah, the economy is gonna crash again because Google wants to advertise their own products on their own websites

      • trumpet444

        Yeah, maybe you don’t want a search company manipulating search results, but capitalism solves that. If Google wants to show you blue circles every time you search for red squares they can. The same thing aggravates the crap out of me when people whine about censorship and 1st amendment rights when YouTube blocks a video. YouTube is not taxpayer funded/owned, they can block whatever the hell they like. If you don’t like what a business provides, use its competitor’s product. This should not be the government’s business, even if an existing law says it is, it shouldn’t be. Google is not taxpayer owned.

        Should a lawsuit be brought to Apple for Siri telling me the iPhone is the best smartphone in the world?

      • Luis

        Why are people down voting this? As an end user, I’d rather not have search results for any search site be manipulated. I do not benefit from that. Google or whoever does this should be stopped from doing so. I don’t care how.

      • Tony Allen

        No one is stopping them from heading over to Bing are they?

  • http://twitter.com/alarsonisu Alex Larson

    Why exactly shouldn’t they be able to? Companies advertise their other products on their services all the time. Why don’t they go after apple for doing what got microsoft in trouble in the 90s and locking you into their browser.

    • http://www.engadget.com/ Jon Fingas

      Apple doesn’t have majority market share. That’s what the definition of anti-monopoly legislation is: to prevent companies with a clear majority share in one area (like Google has with search) from abusing that dominance. If Android loses its lead and Apple is suddenly the majority smartphone platform, then it’d be entirely fair to ask Apple to give competing browsers equal opportunity for control.

      • trumpet444

        Oh okay, so the law says to attack a popular product if it starts to do what it wants with the product it owns. Punish the successful.

  • Confused

    Can someone give me an analogy to help explain why this practice is illegal?

    • New_Guy

      Not really sure there is one. It’s their website and their product. Unless there is some sort of breach of contract here with its customers than this seems silly and frivolous. Ads are how Google makes its money afterall.

  • dsignori

    What exactly is illegal – or even wrong – with a company promoting it’s own products on a free web site search page?

    • r0lct

      I think the delineation is when a sponsored link comes ahead of another but is labeled as sponsored. Essentially Google is sponsoring their own products ahead of others in results as opposed to winning based on Google’s own algorithm.

  • Jeff

    I did find the somewhat in your face pushing of the Chrome browser and Nexus annoying.

    • New_Guy

      Then use Bing…

    • james

      Wow so many “objective” readers on this site.

    • Eric James

      Well build your own search engine, then you can push whatever you like.

      • agas

        Then he’ll get sued too.

  • Spinnaker0

    If they get nailed on this, I don’t want to see any banks advertising their mortgage products when I use their checking or savings products.