The US Federal Trade Commission chairman has publicly defended his agency's settlement with Google for the first time since the search giant was cleared of search result bias last week.
The settlement was reached after a nearly two-year investigation into allegations that Google used its dominance to push down search results from its competitors.
Google agreed to change the ways it presents some search results and runs search advertising, but was exonerated of the results bias claims. Rivals including Yelp and Microsoft accused Google of favoring its own product results over those of its competitors and called for the anti-trust case.
But FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz told Talking Points Memo that the agency's decision was legally sound and would be beneficial to competition and consumers.
"Under facts we found, all five of us, from liberal Democrat to conservative Republican, agreed that the evidence militated against an anti-trust case," Leibowitz told TPM. "The fact that we managed to have both Google and Google's rivals unhappy, in an odd way that's maybe unique to Washington, that puts us in the right place substantively."
Leibowitz also addressed questions about the the role lobbying played in the investigation. Google accumulated a $US25m lobbying budget over the course of the FTC's investigation.
"My sense is that the lobbying makes the companies feel good and lobbyists feel good," Leibowitz said. "At the end of the day, whether you want to say lobbying had any influence, or canceled itself out because there was lobbying on both sides, if you're going to do what lobbyists want you to do in a regulatory agency, you're not doing your job."
Five FTC commissioners voted unanimously to close the case on whether Google used unfair practices in search results, but voted four to one in favor of a settlement after finding that the company used unfair practices in its mobile business.
The FTC said that Google's Motorola Mobility phone subsidiary had unfairly used patents in an effort to block payment and extract large payments and continued to do so after the subsidiary was acquired by Google in August 2012.
"We took a pretty meaningful step forward to stop one of the most drastic abuses in patent litigation," Leibowitz said. "[Google] won't be able to engage in patent holdup, where the threat of an injunction is used as a sword of Damocles."
The practice in question abused "standards-essential patents" to demand exorbitant licence fees from companies that are required to must comply with a standard like 3G or Wi-Fi to make smartphones, game consoles and computers.
Google withdrew two patent infringement claims it filed against Microsoft on Tuesday. "That's part of what we expected," Leibowitz said.
Google's legally abiding agreement with the FTC says that the company will stop "scraping" content from other sites and presenting it as its own in search results. Sites and businesses can also opt of of being in the search results for Google verticals including Google Local and Google Shopping, without getting their search results pushed down in Google's general search.
By agreeing to a legal bind instead of making a voluntary commitment, the FTC can enforce and monitor whether Google is upholding its side of the agreement. Google can also be fined by the FTC if it strays from the commitment.
In the course of the investigation, Google executives provided sworn testimony and the FTC reviewed 9 million pages of documents from the company and others. Some saw the case as a chance for the dominant company to lose some power.
"Perhaps to some extent we helped to build up expectations," Leibowitz said. "But I also think complainants created great expectations of their own. I think that as time goes on, more and more people will recognize we did justice."
When the FTC announced the settlement with Google on January 3, it was portrayed as a victory for Google by many US news outlets.
"Reporters think of this in some ways as a horse race," Leibowitz said. "It's really about doing the right thing."
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