Although the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ultimately decided against filing antitrust charges against Google, at least one bureau recommended pursuing legal action against the search company for exploiting its position to harm its competitors.
A 2013 report filed by the FTC's bureau of competition is said to have been accidentally leaked to the Wall Street Journal, after the publication filed a Freedom of Information request for a completely unrelated matter. The report, which the FTC requested the WSJ not to publish, concludes that Google used anti-competitive tactics that led to "significant harm" to its rivals while helping its own business.
"[Google's behavior] helped it to maintain, preserve, and enhance Google's monopoly position in the markets for search and search advertising," said the report, according to the WSJ.
Evidence cited in the report, including a treasure trove of details about Google's business practices as mentioned by its highest ranking officials such as co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, executive chairman Eric Schmidt, and former executive and now Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, demonstrate how Google maintains its majority market share while providing the best user experience while simultaneously using underhanded tactics against its competitors.
The report could renew complaints from local search rival Yelp, which accuses Google of favoring search results from its own Google Local even though Yelp's content is far better than Google's. It could also fuel the ongoing antitrust investigation against Google in Europe, where regulators have a tougher stance against Google.
The document concludes that Google skewed search results for its own benefit and to the detriment of its rivals, with Google "demoting, or refusing to display, links to certain vertical websites in highly commercial categories." However, Google's claim to improve search results makes it difficult for the FTC to pursue legal action in the U.S., even if elsewhere, Google is faced with a barrage of investigations and charges brought on by rivals and regulators.
Across the Atlantic Ocean, members of the European Parliament have voted in favor of a resolution proposing that Google split up its search engine from its other services, effectively prohibiting Google from bannering its own services on top of its rivals in the search results. Google owns a whopping 90 percent of the search market in Europe, where it has been the subject of a four-year-long ongoing antitrust investigation. In the U.S., comScore predicts Google's market share at 65 percent, but the search company may own much more than is widely believed. The report says Google estimates its U.S. market share between 69 and 84 percent.
"From an antitrust perspective, I'm happy to see [comScore] underestimate our share," the report quotes Hal Varian, chief economist at Google.
Europe has expanded its investigation to include Android, the mobile operating system controlled by Google. According to IDC, Android owns nearly 77 percent of the global smartphone industry, with iOS trailing behind at 20 percent. Last month, the Federal Antimonopoly Service of Russia also launched an official probe into Google's business practices after Yandex, Google's main competitor in Russia, filed a complaint that Google is abusing Android's position to force smartphone manufacturers into preinstalling Google's apps and using Google as the default search engine.
In the U.S., however, a federal judge dismissed antitrust charges against Google after plaintiffs filed a lawsuit alleging Google of the same accusations as Yandex. District judge Beth Labson Freeman of San Jose, California said the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate how Google's practices resulted in higher smartphone prices.