But FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz accentuated the positive, emphasizing the impact the commission hoped the settlement would have. "Google's unfair conduct threatened to block consumers access to critical electronic devices," he said in announcing the agreement. "Today's landmark enforcement effort will become what we hope will be a template for resolution of [SEP] licensing disputes across many industries."
If Google breaks any part of the agreement, the FTC can fine the company up to $16,000 per violation. And the agency has demonstrated that it will, in fact, act on the threat. Last year the FTC found that Google broke an agreement governing Internet privacy and fined the company $22.5 million.
In further concessions contained in the new agreement, Google also said that it would stop "scraping" its rivals' content, such as restaurant or product reviews, for use in its own specialized search results. It also agreed to drop contractual restrictions that made it difficult for small businesses to manage their online campaigns across competing advertising platforms.
Still, Google's competitors were not mollified. Microsoft and other companies that had alleged that Google was violating antitrust and anticompetition laws were angered by the FTC's decision not to take legal action against Google's search engine practices.
The consumer review site Yelp, a vocal critic of Google's scraping activities, said that the FTC's failure to take stronger action was "a missed opportunity to protect innovation in the Internet economy, and the consumers and businesses that rely upon it." American Consumer Institute president Steve Pociask accused the FTC of failing to use its authority "for the betterment of the marketplace." And Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy organization that has frequently criticized Google, called for the U.S. Department of Justice and state attorneys general to "press forward to end the Internet giant's monopolistic behavior in search results."
Google's fight is not over. It still has to face regulators in Europe, where it has been accused of anticompetitive practices similar to those investigated by the FTC. After the FTC announcement, Microsoft's Heiner said that his company would now be looking for help in Europe, where Google's search engine is even more dominant than it is in the United States and where the FTC decision may have no impact.
"We have taken note of the FTC decision," European Commission spokesman Michael Jennings told Reuters. "But we don't see that it has any direct implications for our investigation, for our discussions with Google, which are ongoing."