FTC, EU to delay Google antitrust decisions: report

The U.S. FTC will delay its decision over Google's antitrust probe until 2013, but the search giant could settle with EU authorities as soon as January, according to reports.

Credit: Robert Scoble/Flickr

Speaking to unnamed sources, Bloomberg reports that the FTC's final decision on its 20-month long antitrust probe of the search giant will be delayed until next year. The results of the probe were expected to be announced this week.

The Mountain View, California-based company has been in talks with the Commission over the past two weeks, and according to the London-based newspaper, Google has been preparing a letter with voluntary changes in order to try and end the FTC's investigation without it resulting in a formal settlement or eventual lawsuit.

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In addition, the U.S. regulator has also been preparing to file a decree on patents which would limit the search engine giant from seeking court orders barring products when Google has previously agreed to license technology based on fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms.

"Questions about Google's search bias and other anti-competitive practices will not end if the FTC fails to take legally binding action to protect consumers and innovators in the U.S., where the market conditions and law are different than the EU," said Fairsearch.org, a group of search engine competitors and critics of the idea that Google may be able to avoid a formal settlement, in an e-mailed statement to the news agency.

Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt and the European Union's antitrust chief Joaquin Almunia met last week in Brussels, Belgium, where Almunia said he expected an offer from Google by January 2013 to settle an additional antitrust probe, which is investigating complaints by rival firms that Google engaged with anti-competitive behavior.

In 2010, the EU launched an antitrust probe into Google's business practices after rival firms alleged that the tech giant employs a number of methods which impact on competition. The Commission received over a dozen formal complaints, including Microsoft-owned search engine Ciao!, Foundem, eJustice, Expedia, and TripAdvisor.

There are four main areas of concern that the EU has investigated. These include how Google's products are incorporated within general search results, mainly the firm's "vertical search" function which may push out competing services.

In addition, Google allegedly "copies content" such as user reviews without prior consent, and the "exclusivity" of agreements concerning Google advertising on other sites is also under scrutiny. Finally, the display of third-party content and the flexibility of AdWords advertising is a worry for the EU, who think restrictions on software developers may harm seamless campaign advertising from competitors.

Previously, talks were said to be on a "knife-edge," but the commission and Google are potentially making headway.

"Since our preliminary talks with Google started in July, we have substantially reduced our differences regarding possible ways to address each of the four competition concerns expressed by the commission," Almunia said in a statement on Tuesday.

In order to bring the European antitrust probe to a close, Google has been told it may have to make drastic changes to its mobile services, which would include mobile search and advertising. 

If Google is found guilty, under European law, the firm could face a fine of up to 10 percent of its global revenue, which equates to roughly $4 billion.

We've put in questions to the European Commission and will update once we hear back.