In a rare move, Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, joined by Commissioners Julie Brill and Maureen Ohlhausen, issued a public statement defending the agency's investigation of Google for alleged antitrust violations.
The FTC commissioners were responding to a series of recent Wall Street Journal reports about the 2011-2012 investigation of Google. Last week, the Journal reported that some staff at the FTC wanted to sue the company. Today, the newspaper followed up with the article “Google Makes Most of Close Ties to White House,” which said that Google employees have met with the White House almost weekly since 2009.
That article “makes a number of misleading inferences and suggestions about the integrity of the FTC’s investigation,” Ramirez and the other officials state.
“The article suggests that a series of disparate and unrelated meetings involving FTC officials and executive branch officials or Google representatives somehow affected the Commission’s decision to close the search investigation in early 2013. Not a single fact is offered to substantiate this misleading narrative.”
Last week, the Journal wrote that an FTC staff report indicated that Google leveraged its dominance in search to harm other companies. The Journal said it obtained a portion of an FTC staff report after the agency mistakenly released it in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
According to the Journal, that staff report faulted Google for three alleged practices, including taking content from Yelp, TripAdvisor and Amazon. The search giant allegedly did so in order to boost its own sites.
In January of 2013 the FTC closed its investigation over Google's search engine practices without bringing an enforcement action.
Former Chairman Jon Leibowitz said at the time that Google had taken steps to alleviate concern over "troubling allegations" that it misappropriated rivals' content. Specifically, Google promised to allow companies to opt out of appearing in the vertical search engines -- like Google Local -- but still show up in the general search results.
The FTC said on Wednesday that Google has “abided by those commitments” since the investigation was closed.