A previously unreleased report from the Federal Trade Commission’s 2012 investigation into Google’s search practices reveals a much less flattering portrait of the search engine giant than was known at the time.
The FTC cleared Google of wrongdoing in 2013 after it was accused of tampering with search results as a way to artificially promote its own products over those of rivals. The company was able to dodge a major lawsuit and fines by agreeing to make voluntary changes that included allowing websites to remove content from Google’s specialized sites without dropping out of search results.
The FTC staff report demonstrates the lengths to which Google went to promote its own services on its site. It boosted its own travel and shopping services over those of competitors even if Google offerings did not match customer search criteria. In some cases, it even demoted rival sites.
This latest report, which surfaced accidentally as part of a broader Freedom of Information Act request, is at odds with the actions of the FTC in 2013, when former FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz praised the company’s voluntary actions. Google’s chief legal officer David Drummond said at the time that the company had been vindicated and that, “Google’s services are good for users and good for competition.” It now appears that the FTC had evidence that Google was gaming the system in its own favor.
Google is no stranger to controversy, and it has faced many accusations about its business practices. But the search engine giant is once again the focus of questions about its actions, and that should make communicators take notice.
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