“Google has for the first time agreed to legally binding changes to its search results after an antitrust investigation by European regulators,” writes Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times .
After a two-year inquiry, the European Commission has accepted Google’s proposed settlement, according to two people briefed on the agreement who spoke anonymously because the proposal was not yet public.
Google will not have to change the algorithm that produces its search results, the people said. Under the proposal, Google agrees to clearly label search results from its own properties, like Google Plus Local or Google News, and in some cases to show links from rival search engines.
“These ads take into account people’s browsing behavior outside Facebook, as captured through cookies, with the aim of offering up messages about products they’ve already shown interest in,” writes Jennifer Van Grove of CNET.
Personalized advertising based on one’s Web browsing isn’t new, but this marks the first time Facebook has allowed advertisers to market their products directly on News Feed. (Prior to Tuesday, advertisers were only permitted to display these ads on the rightsize column of the site.)
As Van Grove notes, these types of ads are extremely valuable to merchants; they know that the products they’re pushing are the same ones you’ve been browsing and they can determine, with precision, whether you follow the link and make the purchase.
The tricky part for Facebook though, is not further alienating its users. Van Grove, and the analyst she quotes, use words like “creepy” and “jarring” to describe the feeling that consumers might have as they come upon their ad-augmented News Feed.
After Google acquired the travel guide company, Frommer’s, watchdog groups and the “Fairsearch.org consortium of competitors to Google” are calling on the FTC to invoke anti-trust regulations on the search giant. Rather than direct users to the full array of travel sites, opponents of the acquisition believe Google will unfairly redirect traffic to its new company.
From Google’s perspective this acquisition of branded content (a trusted travel guide) will improve the search experience for users. Instead of handing over a lengthy list of travel guides, a list that would need sifting and researching, Google will feature it’s own content from Frommer’s, saving users the time and work needed to wade through daunting search results. (Google has also recently acquired Zagat, the restaurant guide).
Crovitz notes that antitrust policies are meant to produce the best consumer experience and not necessarily to shield competitors from the acquisitions of companies like Google.
If the FTC acts on on this acquisition it would overturn its own 2003 agreement that the Commission would not seek “disgorgement of profits as a remedy for alleged violations.” The FTC would hit Google with financial penalties and send a discouraging signal to technology companies.
Crovitz sees this as a rising trend with Silicon Valley and Washington, where companies “substitute lobbying for competition.”