FTC falters in Google antitrust suit

US regulator said to be unsure of evidence against search leviathan

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FTC falters in Google antitrust suit The FTC is unsure it can prove that consumers have been harmed, say insiders.
By  Stephen McBride Published  November 22, 2012

The US Federal Trade Commission is said to be unsure of its legal footing with regard to a planned lawsuit against Google Inc, Bloomberg reported.

Three people familiar with the proceedings said officials at the US trade regulator were not convinced they had enough evidence to prove that consumers were harmed by Google's alleged practices of ranking its services above those of its competitors on the search results of its main website.

The FTC faces added pressure to obtain legal concessions from the search giant after settling a disagreement with the Justice Department's antitrust arm over which of the regulators would pursue the case against the search giant.

FTC complaints also include concerns over Google's legal battles on smartphone rivals' violations of its patents. Since these patents are so-called "standard essential patents", antitrust officials argue that they should be fairly and broadly licensed, something they claim Google has failed to do. In fact, Google has been using the litigation to try to prevent competing products from reaching the marketplace.

But complaints against Google's distorted search results constitute by far the greatest business threat, said Keith Hylton, a Boston University law professor who has written several books on antitrust issues.

"The only part of the case that goes to the heart of what Google does is the search-biasing claim," Hylton said. "If that drops out of the FTC's case, then you have something that doesn't seem to be all that interesting in terms of antitrust law."

The insiders said other complaints against Google include exclusive agreements to provide search services to online publishers and its purported use of customer reviews from other websites without permission.

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