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Both Sides Claim a Victory in the FTC Case Against Google

googleThe 19-month, FTC investigation into Google’s policies and practices has come to an end and both parties are declaring themselves the winner.

Here’s the announcement from the Official Google Blog:

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission today announced it has closed its investigation into Google after an exhaustive 19-month review that covered millions of pages of documents and involved many hours of testimony. The conclusion is clear: Google’s services are good for users and good for competition.

Here’s the FTC’s version:

Google Inc. has agreed to change some of its business practices to resolve Federal Trade Commission concerns that those practices could stifle competition in the markets for popular devices . . . as well as the market for online search advertising.

Under a settlement reached with the FTC, Google will meet its prior commitments to allow competitors access – on fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory terms – to patents on critical standardized technologies needed to make popular devices . . . Google has agreed to give online advertisers more flexibility to simultaneously manage ad campaigns on Google’s AdWords platform and on rival ad platforms; and to refrain from misappropriating online content from so-called “vertical” websites that focus on specific categories such as shopping or travel for use in its own vertical offerings.

The difference in tone is amazing. The FTC is throwing around words like “stifle,” “misappropriating,” and “fair.” While Google’s talking about how exhausting the whole process was but in the end, it’s clear they have a heart of gold.

All those hours and the millions of pages led up to three basic changes:

Third-party content

Google was accused of misappropriating third party content and passing it off as their own in Google search results. This included things like restaurant reviews, images, and maps. Google agreed that going forward, they’ll make it clear that they didn’t create the content. They’ll also allow websites to opt-out if they don’t want their content to appear.

This one is tricky. On one hand, everyone likes the exposure Google offers, but if folks get the info on the Google search page and they don’t have to click through to the site, that’s a loss in traffic and potential revenue. Am I missing anything else here?

Google AdWords

Next, Google agreed to allow marketers to “mix and copy ad campaign data within third party services that use our AdWords API. ” I’ll be honest here and say I don’t understand that ramifications of that other than the fact that it gives marketers more options – which is a good thing.

Patents

Google has also agreed to be fair and reasonable (who decides that?) when licensing standards-essential patents (SEPs). They also agreed to try and settle patent disputes with the aide of a neutral party before going for the throat. How nice.

The Flip Side

This agreement with the FTC makes it sound like Google is ready and willing to set aside its mighty sword so the little people can flourish in their own right. But the Wall Street Journal says no! They just published a very interesting article on how Google is forcing people to create Google+ accounts if they want to use other Google products and leave reviews on apps, businesses or movies.

Google says requiring a log-in raises the quality of reviews, which is probably true, but that doesn’t give Google the right to accumulate a person’s data in an online profile without their express permission. And since the default is to make all pages public, a person has to be aware of the profile and actively make it private if they want to protect their information from unwanted eyes.

Google needs the additional profile data to raise advertising dollars and compete with Facebook. But the reality is that the Google+ community numbers are highly inflated by people who don’t use the social network as anything more than a gateway to log-in.

Facebook is always getting accused of privacy invading behavior, but you can survive on the internet without a Facebook account. Google, on the other hand, is making it hard to navigate and participate without some connection to their company. Feels like the beginning of FTC investigates – part two.

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