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The FTC Gives Google a Free Pass

Google CEO Larry Page approaches the federal building in San Francisco, on April 18, 2012
Google CEO Larry Page approaches the federal building in San Francisco, on April 18, 2012Photograph by Eric Risberg/AP Photo

That sound you hear today—that’s the sound of Google’s knuckles being rapped, every so lightly, by the Federal Trade Commission. The agency settled its lengthy antitrust investigation into the Web’s dominant search service, and the results, announced today, pretty much completely exonerate the company and require it to make only a few relatively minor changes to the way it conducts itself. Among other things, Google agreed to limit its annotation of content from other websites and to give advertisers more control over their ad campaigns. Separately, it agreed to license certain mobile phone patents that it acquired in its purchase of Motorola Mobility.

But rest assured you won’t notice any of that in your daily Web searches. In the most significant question investigators asked, whether Google improperly biased its search results and harmed consumers by favoring its own content, the FTC declined to press charges, concluding that Google’s search techniques provided an overall benefit to consumers. While changes to Google’s search results “may have had the effect of harming individual competitors,” the FTC wrote in its statement, they “could be plausibly justified as innovations that improved Google’s product and the experience of its users.”