Thursday, August 9, 2012

Google's interactions with federal regulators

Google has had several interactions with U.S. regulators in recent years. On Thursday, the Federal Trade Commission announced a record fine to settle a case over whether unauthorized changes Google made to privacy settings in Safari Web browsers violated an agreement prohibiting the company from misleading consumers.

Some of Google's interactions with U.S. regulators over the years:

? December 2007 ? The Federal Trade Commission approves Google's $3.2 billion purchase of Internet ad company DoubleClick, concluding after a nearly yearlong review that it won't significantly reduce competition in online advertising. The FTC did not impose conditions. Google closed the deal three months later after getting EU regulatory approval.

? November 2008 ? Google abandons a proposed Internet advertising partnership with Yahoo after the Justice Department said it would sue to block it to preserve competition in Internet advertising. Attorneys general from 15 states and Canada's antitrust regulators had also loomed as potential adversaries.

? May 2010 ? The FTC clears Google's $681 million acquisition of mobile ad service AdMob after a six-month antitrust investigation. The commission said it unanimously decided to approve the deal mainly because Apple's recent push into the market eased concerns that Google would be able to extend its dominance into the nascent field of wireless devices. The FTC imposed no conditions.

? March 2011 ? Google agreed to adopt a comprehensive privacy program to settle federal charges that it deceived users and violated its own privacy policy when it launched a social networking service called Buzz. The settlement with the FTC requires Google to study existing and new services to determine if they pose risks to user privacy. Google has to develop policies to address any risks. The settlement mandates independent audits to oversee and verify Google's privacy program every other year for the next 20 years. Google signed the deal in October.

? April 2011 ? Justice Department clears Google's $676 million purchase of airline fare tracker ITA Software. However, it imposes significant conditions, including a requirement for Google to license the technology to other companies on reasonable terms until 2016. The government also will monitor Google to ensure it does not engage in anticompetitive behavior.

? June 2011 ? Google confirms that the Federal Trade Commission is looking into whether the company has been abusing its dominance of Internet search and advertising to stifle competition as it expands into other lucrative online markets, such as mapping, comparison shopping and travel. Rivals complain that Google manipulates its results to steer users to its own sites and services and bury links to competitors. Google insists it is giving people the best recommendations, including those of Google products.

? August 2011 ? Google agrees to pay $500 million to settle a U.S. government investigation into the Internet search leader's distribution of online ads from Canadian pharmacies illegally selling prescription and non-prescription drugs to American consumers. The settlement allows Google to avoid criminal charges. Google had disclosed earlier this year that it had set aside that amount to cover a potential settlement, though the company provided few details then.

? February 2012 ? U.S. Department of Justice clears Google's $12.5 billion purchase of Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. hours after European officials approved it. Google waits another three months for approval in China.

? April 2012 ? The Federal Communications Commission fines Google $25,000, saying the online search leader "deliberately impeded and delayed" an investigation into how it collected data while taking photos for its "Street View" mapping feature. Google disputes the FCC's characterization of the probe and says the FCC was the party that took its time. Google says it accepted the fine to close the case.

Separately, the FTC signals that its year-old probe is deepening by hiring an outside lawyer, former U.S. Justice Department prosecutor Beth Wilkinson, to dig deeper into Google's business practices. The FTC stresses the Wilkinson's hiring should not be interpreted as a sign that it intends to crack down on Google.

? August 2012 ? The FTC announces that Google has agreed to pay a $22.5 million fine to settle allegations that it broke a privacy promise by secretly tracking the online activities of millions of people who use Apple's Safari web browser. It's the largest penalty ever imposed by the FTC. Google isn't admitting any wrongdoing. The fine isn't over Google's data collection, but for misrepresenting what was happening, in violation of last year's agreement to settle the Buzz case.


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