By Michael Northcott Friday, 04 January 2013

US ends probe into fairness of Google's search results

The Federal Trade Commission in the US has closed its investigation into Google, after finding that the search firm does not favour its own products in search results.

Anyone with an eye on the tech scene will have heard of Google’s unofficial ‘don’t be evil’ slogan – a nice bit of marketing for one of the world’s mega-corporations. But it wasn’t enough to stop the FTC launching a probe into the search giant 19 months ago, concerned that the firm was favouring its own services when people hit ‘search’.

But the investigation has been closed after no real evidence was found to suggest that Google manipulates its search algorithms to bump its competitors further down the rankings. Competitors would include mapping, cloud computing, shopping, weather and other information services. 

Furthermore, presumably in an attempt to convince the FTC to close the probe, Google has agreed to give advertising clients more info about their campaigns. What this extra information will be is unclear, but it’s obviously worked as a sweetener.

The investigation was the first extensive one that Google has faced since its rise to dominance, and many believe that that the probe was prompted mainly by Microsoft and other US tech giants in an attempt to slow down Google’s growth. 

Google’s legal boss, David Drummond, said in a blog on Friday: ‘The conclusion is clear: Google’s services are good for users and good for competition.’ He added that earlier probes found that Google ‘should be free to combine direct answers with web results.’

The FTC’s chairman, Jon Leibowitz, said there was a unanimous vote from the commissioners not to sue Google. He said they had found that Google had fair reasons to keep its own services higher in the rankings. He said: ‘Although some evidence suggested Google was trying to eliminate competition, Google’s primary purpose was to improve the user experience.’ 

Google is not completely off the hook on this side of the pond, however: an antitrust investigation by the European Commission is ongoing. Watch this space.

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