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Entries in Antitrust (4)

Thursday
Jan032013

FTC Settles Antitrust Investigation of Google

KIMIHIRO HOSHINO/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- After a high-profile 20-month investigation, the federal government announced Thursday it's dropping an "exhaustive" antitrust probe into Google, the world's largest search engine.

The Federal Trade Commission said it found no evidence the tech giant used unfair tactics to thwart competing sites. Google escaped the investigation without paying a fine, but it will voluntarily change some of its practices to be more open to competitors, the FTC said.

"The changes Google has agreed to make will ensure that consumers continue to reap the benefits of competition in the online marketplace and in the market for innovative wireless devices they enjoy," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said. "This was an incredibly thorough and careful investigation by the commission, and the outcome is a strong and enforceable set of agreements."

The FTC's investigation focused on two main allegations from rival companies: first, that Google favored its own Internet search results while burying links to competing sites; and second, that the company stifled competition by not allowing access to its mobile device patents.

Competitors have accused Google of scraping content and posting it on search results to make it appear as if it were Google's own content. For example, Leibowitz said, Google was accused of posting restaurant reviews from Yelp on Internet searches without prompting the user to click Yelp's site directly -- a claim that, if proved true, would have been "clearly problematic."

As part of the settlement, Google agreed to "refrain from misappropriating online content" this way while also offering online advertisers more flexibility to opt out of showing up in search results.

The company also agreed not to seek injunctions to block rivals from accessing patents that are "essential to key technologies," like smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices. Google shelled out nearly $12.5 billion last year to acquire Motorola Mobility and its 24,000 lucrative patents and applications, according to the FTC.

"We've always accepted that with success comes regulatory scrutiny," wrote Dave Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, in a blog statement. "The conclusion is clear: Google's services are good for users and good for competition."

The commission will continue to monitor Google's business practices, but critics say the FTC findings don't have any teeth: The FTC can't fine Google or jail its executives for future violations. The most the commission says it has authority to do is open another investigation if further concerns arise.

The settlement comes as a win for Google, whose competitors have been pushing for a more stringent antitrust suit.

This is not the first time the tech giant has been under federal scrutiny. In August, the commission said Google violated user privacy agreements by tracking "cookies" for Apple Safari users and sending targeted ads to consumers. Google was forced to pay a $22.5 million fine -- the largest ever from a violation of FTC rules.

The company still faces a similar antitrust investigation in the European Union, which launched its probe in 2010.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jan032013

Microsoft Fuels Antitrust Battle with Google

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Microsoft is making a last-ditch effort to get government regulators to crack down on Google.  

The Windows company claims Google is abusing its dominance of online search, online video and the lucrative smartphone market. Microsoft also says Google has been unfairly squashing competition to the detriment of consumers.  

Microsoft's claims come as regulators in the U.S. and Europe wrap up several probes into Google's business practices.  Microsoft is worried Google will settle with the governments without having to make any major changes.  

Microsoft Deputy General Counsel Dave Heiner wrote Wednesday in a blog post about Google's potential deal to ward off a lawsuit by the Federal Trade Commission.

"You might think that Google would be on its best behavior given it’s under the bright lights of regulatory scrutiny on two continents, particularly as it seeks to assure antitrust enforcers in the U.S. and Europe that it can be trusted on the basis of non-binding assurances that it will not abuse its market position further," Heiner wrote. "However, as we enter 2013, that is not the case."

One example, Heiner highlights, is that Google still has not allowed Microsoft to offer a fully featured YouTube app for the Windows Phone.  Microsoft has taken issue with Google's refusal to allow YouTube on the company's smartphone since at least 2011, according to the Wall Street Journal.

If Google can agree to make "'voluntary commitments' to reform its behavior," Heiner wrote, "the FTC may close its investigation," an outcome Microsoft hopes it won't see.

According to Heiner, any agreement between Google and the antitrust authorities "appears to be less demanding than the pledge the U.S. Department of Justice received from Apple and Microsoft nearly a year ago."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Dec282011

PC, TV Buyers to Collect $553M LCD Settlement

PRNewsFoto/Samsung/Epson/Sharp(ALBANY, N.Y.) -- Samsung Electronics, Sharp, Epson Imaging Devices and four other electronics manufacturers based in Asia agreed to a $553 million settlement with multiple states for allegedly conspiring to inflate prices for LCD screens. Consumers who own certain televisions, computer monitors and laptops, using these screens could be eligible for a partial state refund, says New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

The companies will pay up to $501 million for partial refunds to compensate consumers in 24 states and the District of Columbia who purchased products containing TFT-LCD panels from Jan. 1, 1999 through Dec. 31, 2006. Private class counsel has certified classes in those states and the District of Columbia, but the refund amounts have yet to be determined.

New York State taxpayers may receive upwards of $11 million, in addition to restitution, to compensate consumers who own particular devices with these LCD, or liquid crystal display, screens.

The companies will also pay up to $37 million to compensate government and other public entities for damages.

Samsung Electronics, known as the world’s leader in flat-panel televisions based in Korea, Sharp Corporation, Chi Mei Innolux Corporation, Chunghwa Picture Tubes, Epson Imaging Devices Corporation, HannStar Display Corporation, and Hitachi Displays agreed to pay over $538 million to settle antitrust claims brought on behalf of consumers, government entities and other public entities by a group of eight attorneys general and private class action attorneys. Five of the companies agreed to pay over $14 million to settle civil fine and penalty law claims brought by the states.

Jennifer Givner, a spokeswoman for the New York Attorney General’s office, said all AGs will post notices on their websites once the claims administrator is appointed to begin accepting claims applications.

Claims of consumers in the eight states where attorneys general (AG) brought actions are represented both by AGs and by private class counsel. Those states -- Arkansas, California, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, New York, West Virginia, and Wisconsin -- will get penalties and money for their proprietary claims as government and public entities.

The 24 states, plus Washington, D.C., where consumers will be entitled to partial refunds are: Arizona, Arkansas, California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Chris Goodhart, a spokesman for Samsung, said the company does not comment on pending litigation. Chi Mei Innolux Corporation, Chunghwa Picture Tubes, Epson Imaging Devices Corporation, HannStar Display Corporation, Hitachi Displays and Sharp Corporation did not return a request for comment.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

Wednesday
Sep212011

Google's Schmidt Defends Company's Search Practices Amid Antitrust Concerns

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt defended the company’s search practices and asked consumers to trust its methods Wednesday as lawmakers grilled him on whether the Internet search giant is squeezing out its competitors.
 
At a hearing of the Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee Wednesday, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah., was blunt in his accusation that Google may be “cooking the results” and consistently placing its own products high up in search results.
 
“Senator, I can assure you we have not cooked anything,” Schmidt said in his first-ever testimony on Capitol Hill. Google’s dominance of the search market has caught the eye of antitrust investigators as the company has started new ventures that may compete with the same websites that it rates on its site.
 
“You run the racetrack, own the racetrack, you didn’t have horses for a while but now you do and your horses seem to be winning,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said, to which Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., joked that Blumenthal was suggesting “Google might be doping the horses.”
 
Schmidt’s response was that “the Internet is the ultimate level playing field,” and Google is simply “like a GPS.” He went on to say that he was “not aware of any boosts or bias” in their search algorithms and that they try to be as inclusive as possible.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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