Many critics both large and small have been vocal about the mere wrist slapping Google received after a lengthy antitrust probe by the FTC into its practices, which are said to be harmful to its competitors. The debacle has been called a failure on the agency’s part to protect the American consumer, among other things. As it turns out, however, the FTC was relentless in its investigation, but Google was just as relentless back.
At the core of the issue is whether Google’s practices harmed consumers, something that could not be proven over the course of the investigation. While it wasn’t denied that Google’s favoritism in Search for itself over competitors may be harmful to its competition, it was beneficial to consumers, and therein is the crux. Google hammered this point home to regulators relentlessly, it is said, via many trips to Washington by executives, lawyers, lobbyists, and more.
Said University of Iowa professor of antitrust law Herbert Hovenkamp: “The way [Google] managed to escape it is through a barrage of not only political officials but also academics aligned against doing very much in this particular case. The first sign of a bad antitrust case is lack of consumer harm, and there just was not any consumer harm emerging in this very long investigation.”
Among other things, Google argued that the nature of the industry meant that regulations would get in the way of its progression, and that what constitutes competition is always changing. An example it offered included Apple and Amazon, which it said shows the nature of how businesses in the industry can quickly shift into competitors. In addition, Google had Microsoft’s previous case to learn from, avoiding mistakes the aforementioned company made.
The FTC’s chairman Liebowitz offered this statement. “Some believe the commission should have done more in this case, perhaps because they are locked in a hand in hand combat with Google around the world. We really do follow the facts where they lead. The focus of our law is on protecting competition, not competitors.”