Government investigators wanted to sue Google after finding "real harm to consumers" back in 2012

Key members of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) wanted to bring antitrust charges against Google, saying it abused its monopoly power, after the agency’s 2012 investigation into the search giant, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

FTC staffers concluded that Google’s “conduct has resulted — and will result — in real harm to consumers and to innovation” in the online search market and the search giant’s actions resulted in “significant harm” to its rivals.”

The probe was originally launched due to allegations that Google was scraping sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor for data to improve its own search results, harming rivals. The search giant also allegedly prevented companies that syndicated its search results from working with other search engines, and by preventing customers of its online advertising to use the data it gets from Google ads with rival advertising services.

By early 2013, despite the harsh judgment of key staffers at the FTC, the agency’s commissioners voted unaniously to end the investigation after Google made some changes to how it did business (removing the limitation on using Google ad data with competitors, at least) though the company maintained it never did anything wrong.

Though the investigation was shut down, the release of this report could inspire new complaints from Yelp and other search competitors and provide more ammunition to European anti-trust regulators who are still pursuing their own probe of Google.

But the FTC’s report, running 160 pages, concluded that Google’s “conduct has resulted — and will result — in real harm to consumers and to innovation in the online search and advertising markets.”

The reason the charges were never levied, suggests the report, was that there were competing interests at play: the FTC’s economics bureau recommended against a lawsuit. And then-FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz said that by making some changes to its practices, Google offered “more relief for American consumers faster than any other option.”

“After an exhaustive 19-month review, covering nine million pages of documents and many hours of testimony, the FTC staff and all five FTC Commissioners agreed that there was no need to take action on how we rank and display search results,” said Google General Counsel Kent Walker in a statement to the Wall Street Journal, who went on to note that there are more options for searching the Internet than ever before.

Google continues to maintains that it is innocent of all wrongdoing.

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