US regulators have closed a Google antitrust probe, citing not enough evidence to prove the Internet giant manipulated its search results to harm its competitors. However, Google has promised to end certain practices.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Thursday said it lacked a legal basis to bring a case against Google for allegedly abusing its dominance in Internet searches. The commission did however win promises from the search giant over several controversial practices.
The FTC voted 5 to 0 to close the investigation into Google's search practices and voted 4 to 1 to settle the patent investigation into Google's injunction requests.
"Even though people would like us to bring a big search bias case, the facts aren't there," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said at a press conference.
Despite the end of the probe Google has promised to end the practice of "scraping" reviews and other data from competitors' websites for its own products. Google will also now allow advertisers to export data to independently evaluate advertising campaigns, the FTC said.
In addition Google will allow competitors fair access to patents on key standardized technologies needed to make smart phones and other popular devices.
The FTC allowed Google to write a letter pledging to apply the agreed-upon changes in the search engine portion of the probe. The move, which broke with the usual practice of requiring a consent decree, prompted questions of whether Google would live up to the agreement.
"I have no reason to think that Google won't honor their commitment; I think they will," said Leibowitz, adding that Google will face financial penalties if they fail to do so.
Google's David Drummond, the company's chief legal officer, responded to the FTC decision on Thursday, "The conclusion is clear: Google's services are good for users and good for competition."
Yelp Inc, which operates the social networking and user review website yelp.com said it was disappointed with the result of the FTC probe.
"The closure of the commission's investigation into search bias by Google without action... represents a missed opportunity to protect innovation in the Internet economy," wrote Yelp spokesman Vince Sollitto in an email.
Google holds close to 70 percent of the search market in the United States.
hc/lw (Reuters, AFP, dpa)