Thursday, January 3rd, 2013
FTC says it’s OK that Google promotes its own vertical search properties over rivals since it is designed to improve overall search experience.
The FTC has closed its investigation of Google and the search giant has agreed to make certain changes to its business practices.
One key issue was “search bias”, or Google promoting its own vertical search products over rivals. This was particularly the case with vertical search engines, such as product comparison sites.
Some of these sites complained that Google’s Universal Search promoted Google’s own listings over their own.
Indeed, the FTC found that Universal Search pushed some of these competitors off the first page of Google results, which led to much lower traffic to the sites.
However, the FTC determined that these moves were designed to improve the user experience rather than as a way to harm competitors.
While some of Google’s rivals may have lost sales due to an improvement in Google’s product, these types of adverse effects on particular competitors from vigorous rivalry are a common byproduct of “competition on the merits” and the competitive process that the law encourages.
While Google’s prominent display of its own vertical search results on its search results page had the effect in some cases of pushing other results “below the fold,” the evidence suggests that Google’s primary goal in introducing this content was to quickly answer, and better satisfy, its users’ search queries by providing directly relevant information. Notably, the documents, testimony and quantitative evidence the Commission examined are largely consistent with the conclusion that Google likely benefited consumers by prominently displaying its vertical content on its search results page. For example, contemporaneous evidence demonstrates that Google would typically test, monitor, and carefully consider the effect of introducing its vertical content on the quality of its general search results, and would demote its own content to a less prominent location when a higher ranking adversely affected the user experience.
Google settled the matter of scraping snippets of information from other web sites, such as product reviews, and including those in its own products. Site owners can now opt out of this and still remain in Google’s organic search results.