Half of a 2012 FTC report on Google’s business practices has been “inadvertently disclosed” in an open records request by the WSJ. Bizarrely, what was leaked was every other page of the report. MarketingLand’s Danny Sullivan has been busy reading the report and tweeting some of the things revealed by it.
The FTC eventually concluded that Google had not violated antitrust laws by favoring its own services over that of rivals, but found it was “a close call.”
Google did, for example, promote its own services in search results …
The FTC noted that it placed its own services above even top-ranked ads, and was willing to take the short-term revenue hit in order to grow its broader business.
Google justified this on the basis that it did not employ SEO techniques on its own services.
Google also made direct product searches a sponsored service because the company calculated that having free results rank higher than ads was costing it $154M a year.
While Google was being accused of abusing its dominant position in search, the report reveals that the company was concerned about losing ground to aggregator sites. Google saw “a critical need” to further invest in its Shopping and Local services to fend off competition from aggregators.
Google’s decision to focus on both ‘verticals’ (specialist searches like Shopping) and Knowledge Graph (where direct answers to the question are provided right at the top of the page, often drawn from Wikipedia) were revealed to have been in response to concerns about the way in which Bing was positioning its rival search engine as a ‘decision engine.’
It was willing to return its own shopping results above those of competitor sites despite some “terribly embarrassing” failures in terms of search relevance.
The report confirms that Google, which demoted web-scraping sites, used web-scraping itself to pull in detailed product information and reviews from Amazon.
The report also shows what just 10 websites generated almost 80% of the company’s AdSense revenue in 2011, Amazon, eBay, Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy among them.
Google issued a statement in which it said the FTC concluded its business practices had done no harm to either consumers or businesses.
We understand that what was sent to the Wall Street Journal represents 50% of one document written by 50% of the FTC case teams. Ultimately both case teams (100%) concluded that no action was needed on search display and ranking. Speculation about consumer or competitor harm turned out to be entirely wrong. On the other issues raised, we quickly made changes as agreed with the FTC.
Update: Sullivan has since tweeted his own round-up, and more interesting snippits are likely to emerge as people digest the report.