Internal FTC Report: Google Blackmailed Competitors

Google plagiarized content from competitor websites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor. When those websites complained, Google threatened to remove the sites from its search results. This is according to an internal report by an American market watchdog that was accidentally made public.

The document, which dates from 2012, was actually confidential, but The Wall Street Journal accidentally obtained an uncensored version when it requested it under the US Open Government Act. The document would show that the American market watchdog FTC found evidence of anti-competitive practices by Google.

For example, the search giant plagiarized content from services such as Yelp, Tripadvisor and Amazon. For example, Amazon copied the ratings users gave to products. User reviews would also have been illegally copied. When competitors complained about Google’s practices, the search giant threatened to remove those competitors’ websites from its search index. The report calls Google’s practices “coercion,” or coercion or blackmail.

According to the FTC, Google also manipulated search results to make its own services stand out. Competitors were placed lower in the search results or even omitted completely. In addition, the company hindered advertisers from using competing advertising platforms. Google’s practices conflicted with the interests of both consumers and advertisers, the FTC said.

Ultimately, the FTC decided not to start a competition case against Google, partly because the market watchdog was internally divided on the matter. What would also count is that Google took voluntary measures to improve competition; for example, competing services can now indicate that they do not want Google to take over their content.

Google is still under fire in Europe, among other places, partly because of the same allegations. Also, competitors like Yelp are still demanding that the search giant be tackled.

The Wall Street Journal notes that Google has been the second-largest donor to US President Obama, and that Google executives have visited the White House repeatedly since Obama was elected. However, a White House spokesperson emphasizes that the FTC is an independent regulator that makes its own decisions.