Following the European Commission’s antitrust decision against Google, some commentators have incorrectly claimed that FTC Commissioners’ overrode the agency’s staff when closing the FTC’s so-called ‘search bias’ investigation of Google. As we explained here on DisCo before, this is wrong.
What actually happened? In 2013, the FTC’s five Commissioners (three Democrats, two Republicans) voted unanimously to close a 19-month investigation of Google Search, stating “we have not found sufficient evidence that Google manipulates its search algorithms to unfairly disadvantage vertical websites that compete with Google-owned vertical properties.” In doing so, the FTC concluded “Google adopted the design changes that the Commission investigated to improve the quality of its search results,” and that data showed “that users benefited from these changes to Google’s search results.” Contrary to EU regulators’ recent finding, the FTC reasoned that “changes to Google’s search algorithm could reasonably be viewed as improving the overall quality of Google’s search results.”
Did this overrule FTC staff recommendations? No. FTC Commissioners emphasized that the Commission’s conclusion was “in accord with the recommendations of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, Bureau of Economics, and Office of General Counsel.”