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European Commission, AGs Have Final Word, Not FTC

As the dust settles after the Federal Trade Commission’s disappointing announcement of its settlement with Google, it is clear that the FTC will not have the last word in determining whether Google’s practices are illegal, and whether the company will have to change them.

Google is expected to make a formal, detailed proposal to the European Commission this month for remedies to the potential illegal abuses of dominance that the European Commission has already identified. According to a European Commission spokesman today, “We have taken note of the FTC decision, but we don’t see that it has any direct implications for our investigation, for our discussions with Google, which are ongoing.”

If EC vice president Joaquín Almunia, the commissioner responsible for enforcing EU competition laws, determines the remedies are worth market testing (asking for public feedback on their effectiveness in remedying the harms identified) and later decides to accept the proposal, those remedies would be legally binding and enforceable. FairSearch and its members plan to participate in the EC’s market testing of any proposed binding remedies to Google’s harms.

In Texas, where Attorney General Greg Abbott initiated the first U.S. antitrust investigation of Google in July 2010, Abbott’s spokesman Thomas Kelley said, “The agreement between the FTC and Google has no bearing or impact on the State of Texas’s independent investigation. Texas will continue with its investigation.”

Top U.S. Senators with jurisdiction over antitrust issues also voiced their continued interest in these issues, despite the FTC’s conclusion. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said, “I understand that other antitrust authorities are continuing to examine related search practices, and I support the Commission’s decision to continue to monitor Google for conduct that may harm competition and consumers.” Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) added that the “agreement does not address all the concerns about anticompetitive conduct raised at our [Antitrust] Subcommittee hearing” and that “We will continue to work with antitrust authorities to help ensure robust competition in the Internet search arena so that consumer welfare is maximized.”

FairSearch and its members will continue to work with authorities in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere who continue to look closely at Google’s biased display of search results and other anti-competitive practices. The fight for a more competitive online marketplace and the innovation it produces will continue.