Google Said to Oppose Consent Decree in Any FTC Deal

Google Inc. is seeking to persuade the U.S. Federal Trade Commission it hasn’t broken antitrust laws and that any final agreement with the agency over its business practices shouldn’t be bound by a consent decree, three people familiar with the matter said.

Chief Executive Officer Larry Page met with FTC officials yesterday in Washington as the agency moves to wrap up its 19-month investigation of the company’s business practices, said one of the people familiar with the discussions.

Google, operator of the world’s most popular search engine, has been engaged in settlement talks with the FTC for about a week, including an effort to define whether there’s a market where Google has a monopoly, one of the people said. The Mountain View, California-based company is concerned that entering a formal settlement agreement with the agency may hurt its business prospects, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the negotiations aren’t public.

“We continue to work cooperatively with the Federal Trade Commission and are happy to answer any questions they may have,” Adam Kovacevich, a Google spokesman, said yesterday in an e-mail. He declined to comment on whether Page met with the FTC or the existence of any settlement talks.

Peter Kaplan, a spokesman for the FTC, declined to comment on the talks.

Capitol Hill

On Capitol Hill yesterday, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt was spotted with the head of the company’s Washington office, the former New York Republican Congresswoman Susan Molinari. Kovacevich declined to comment on Schmidt’s schedule or whereabouts.

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz is pressing Google to resolve the agency’s concerns about its dominance of Internet search or be prepared to face a lawsuit, two people familiar with the matter said Nov. 13.

The agency has told Google it won’t accept a resolution short of a consent decree, one of those people said at the time.

The talks since Nov. 13 aren’t focused on the most serious antitrust allegations made by the company’s rivals -- that Google is skewing search results to favor its own services, two of the people said.

Issues that have been under discussion include Google’s exclusive agreements to provide search services to online publishers and alleged misuse of patents to try to block rivals’ smartphones from coming to market. The FTC also is treating seriously complaints that Google used customer reviews from other websites without permission.

Google also is in discussions with European Union officials to resolve their antitrust concerns. Those include Google ranking its services higher than rivals’ offerings in search results; copying competitors’ Web content and making agreements with websites and developers that stifle competition in the advertising industry.

EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said Nov. 26 that he will meet with Leibowitz next week, without elaborating further.

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