google ftc antitrust tnooz
492 days ago
 

Google may drop screen scraping of TripAdvisor and Yelp content to get government off its back

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) may end its antitrust investigation of Google’s search business by letting the company make voluntary changes, “such as limiting use of restaurant and travel reviews from other websites,” according to sources who spoke with Politico and Bloomberg News.

The official decision is expected to be made public as soon as this week, according to the New York Times Bits blog.

Bye-bye, screen scraping

Two sources told Politico that the company had agreed to abstain from screen scraping synopses of reviews from other sites, such as TripAdvisor and Yelp, and stop incorporating them in its search results. (The company has already made some concessions. Last year, it scaled back using “snippets” of text from other sites in its results related to local businesses.)

Google would also commit to simplify the process for advertisers to port their rates and bidding data to rival advertising networks, such as Microsoft’s Bing. That means the company will make it easier for users of Google AdWords “to compare data from ad campaigns with their performance on other Internet search engines,” says Bloomberg.

The company will apparently also stop signing exclusive agreements with sites to use and promote Google’s search service.

google ftc antitrust tnooz

A potential big win for Google

The probe is going Google’s way, if he reports of voluntary concessions are true. The company will have dodged a consent decree—a judge-approved deal that would have empowered the FTC to supervise specific Google search practices for a set period.

On the other hand, the deal could translate into a major concession by Google to content companies, such as TripAdvisor and Yelp. For years, Google has insisted that it has the right to copy and paste summaries from other sites, such as ratings and review excerpts.

Critics say the company uses these summaries in its search results to tip the scales in favor of its own products, an issue that’s become of more concern with Google having purchased and begun displaying travel content from ITA Software, Frommers, Zagat and other companies.

Apparently federal investigators are afraid they can’t prove that consumers are harmed by how the company ranks its search engine result pages (SERPs), according to an earlier report by Bloomberg. The company seems to be effective in its argument that the cost for consumers to switch to rival sources of information, such as Expedia or TripAdvisor is nothing.

Critics, including Fairsearch.org, had complained that that Google puts its own reviews, maps and services at the top of its results pages, a prime spot that draws most of users’ clicks.

There’s also apparently a lack of damning e-mails or other evidence that Google executives are deliberately trying to use its leverage to harm competitors. This may be the more crucial point. In the words of The New York Times, “the legal issue is the tactics the dominant company employs to expand its empire.”

As Tnooz has noted, Google hired 13 communications and lobbying firms to help fend off antitrust challenges. Critics insist there have been irregularities in how the FTC has handled its probe.

As Tnooz has reported, Google’s search practices are also being probed by European authorities, who obviously aren’t bound by any US government decision. Google accounts for 79% of searches in Europe, compared with 63% in the US. The greater volume combined with tighter regulation may make it easier for Europeans to make a case that Google has monopolistic power.

Read the full Politico report here.

NB: Image courtesy of Branding.

 
 
Sean O'Neill

About the Writer :: Sean O'Neill

Sean O’Neill is a London-based reporter for Tnooz. He's also a regular contributor to BBC Travel.

Follow him on Twitter, Google+, and his personal site .

 

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  1. Robert C Gray

    Would seem “Fair Use” and “Screen Scraping” on a Google scale are two entirely different things. It is time for un-authorized screen scraping to be a thing-of-the-past. It is time for web sites and mobile apps to be responsible for their own content and/or license content from others.

     
  2. Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

    I believe the various government departments responsible for this (hello are you listening FTC and DoJ) must stop tiptoeing around Google. Google is now a marketplace of its own. There is quite a lot of legislation in place (Sherman Act) etc where Google is clearly demonstrating its abilities in monopoly power. But the company has hitherto been quite circumspect in how it deals with fairness. Sadly behaviour that is not just demonstrated by itself but also the other members of the AGFA Empires.

    There is precedent for focusing on the larger picture. Standard Oil and AT&T breakups were driven by the same sort of behaviour that Google is displaying now. I believe that the US DoJ needs to step in and deal with Google once and for all. IE a basket of regulation and if necessary new legislation. There is ample examples of damage to other companies. It is the narrow focus of reference that the FTC uses to judge Google that has resulted on the “not even a slap on the wrist” for Google thus far. The European Commission is not so constrained and is pursuing a much deeper probe of Google. The fact that the Chinese Authorities managed to get Google to change behaviour shows that when it suits them – the Googlites will do it. Perhaps that should be a good enough reason to get Google to do some real good in the market place, especially for the Travel space.

    Cheers

    Timothy

     
  3. Matthew Barker

    Aside from any antitrust regulations, this has always just been plain hypocrisy from Google which cracks down very heavily on other platforms’ screen scraping data from their results pages.

     
    • Sean

      I hadn’t thought of that before. Interesting point, Matthew.

      On a side note: It’s interesting how the “do no evil” mantra of the early days still gives the company a positive halo. Will be interesting to see what the final, actual FTC decision is. It wrested control of the decision away from DOJ, and it may feel a need to prove itself.

       
 
 

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