Google has settled a 19-month long antitrust investigation with the Federal Trade Commission by voluntarily agreeing to make several minor changes to its patent policy and search operations, the two parties announced Thursday.
Google has agreed not to scrape content from rival websites and then pass it off as its own content in search something the company allegedly did with reviews on Yelp. Now, it will give websites the option to opt out of having their content featured on Google's specialized search results pages like the travel and shopping sections.
The company has also agreed to give marketers more control over their ad campaigns through Google AdWords by getting rid of restrictions that prevent advertisers from managing their campaigns on competing web platforms.
As part of the settlement, Google has also agreed to allow competitors access to license standard-essential patents for smartphones and tablets that it acquired through its purchase of Motorola Mobility, a legal agreement intended to prevent Google from using the patents to stifle competition.
"Google is unquestionably one of America's great companies," FTC chairman Jon Liebowitz said during a press conference Thursday. "With today's action by the FTC, Google can refocus on its business and its product, but with a clearer understanding that it must do so while competing fairly."
The FTC did not choose to take action against Google for allegedly promoting content from its other verticals like product listings in search, as some of Google's competitors had hoped, concluding instead that this behavior "could be plausibly justified as innovations that improved Google's product and the experience of its users."
The FTC launched its investigation into Google in June, 2011 after several major companies including Yelp, Microsoft and Expedia accused the company of engaging in anti-competitive practices. Even before the FTC made an official announcement Thursday, Microsoft expressed frustration that the commission had simply agreed to "voluntary commitments" from Google. Liebowitz, for his part, said that the FTC has ways to track whether Google is sticking to the agreement, though he wouldn't offer specifics.
In a blog post, Google's chief legal officer David Drummond spun the FTC's decision as being proof that Google's services are "good for users and good for competition."
While the FTC's investigation into Google is settled, a decision is still pending in the European Union's antitrust investigation into the company. Leibowitz expressed "great confidence that the Europeans will faithfully apply their laws as well."