Google confirms FTC probe: Translating what the company really means

Google confirmed that the Federal Trade Commission was looking into the company's business practices, but said it wasn't sure what regulators were after exactly. A translation of Google's first volley.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Google confirmed that the Federal Trade Commission was looking into the company's business practices, but said it wasn't sure what regulators were after exactly. A company blog post appears to fall back on the company's original "do no evil" mantra from its initial public offering filing. Google's argument: We work for users, innovate and don’t lock people in.

That latter point will be critical in any FTC trial---should an investigation go that far. Google has near monopoly status in search, but the company's argument has always been that consumers could use something else. The problem with that argument is that there's really only one search provider at scale---Microsoft's Bing. And Bing is still dwarfed by Google. Word leaked out that the FTC was planning a broad probe into Google's business practices and whether it was abusing its search power to drive traffic to its own properties over rival sites and services.

With that backdrop, let's read between the lines of Google's blog post on the FTC matter.

Google: "We respect the FTC’s process and will be working with them (as we have with other agencies) over the coming months to answer questions about Google and our services. It’s still unclear exactly what the FTC’s concerns are, but we’re clear about where we stand. Since the beginning, we have been guided by the idea that, if we focus on the user, all else will follow."

Translation: Google is doing a public service and regulators are probing needlessly. And yes, Google knows that Microsoft said something similar about its Windows-Internet Explorer bundle. And so what if we point to our own sites---we are better. Does it kill anyone if a search on email goes to Gmail first? It's all about the user. Search email on Bing and Yahoo, a Microsoft partner, is first.

Google: "Instant answers. New sources of knowledge. Powerful tools—all for free. In just 13 years we’ve built a model that has changed the way people find answers and helped businesses both large and small create jobs and connect with new customers."

Translation: Regulators are messing with a public service if they start screwing around with our ad model. Ditching free services doesn't help the consumer.

Google: "Search helps you go anywhere and discover anything, on an open Internet. Using Google is a choice—and there are lots of other choices available to you for getting information: other general-interest search engines, specialized search engines, direct navigation to websites, mobile applications, social networks, and more."

Translation: OK, we know we have this tremendous market power, but we have to say that you have search choices. We all know that none of you are going to use any alternative other than Bing.

Google: "Because of the many choices available to you, we work constantly on making search better, and will continue to follow the principles that have guided us from the beginning."

Translation: Don't be a hater just because we try to be relevant, label ads, are transparent and generate loyalty. Can we help it we're so successful.

Google: "We’re committed to giving you choices, ensuring that businesses can grow and create jobs, and, ultimately, fostering an Internet that benefits us all."

Translation: We threw in that job creation line because the economy stinks and that'll ratchet up some political pressure on the watchdogs.


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