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U.S. Google antitrust probe ends with mild reprimand

A neon Google logo is seen as employees work at the new Google office in Toronto, November 13, 2012.

Mark Blinch/Reuters

U.S. regulators on Thursday closed a long-running investigation of Google Inc. with a relatively mild agreement that is likely to disappoint rivals and critics of the Web search giant.

Under the agreement, Google agreed to end the practice of scraping reviews and other data from rivals' websites for its own products, and to allow advertisers to export data to independently evaluate advertising campaigns, the Federal Trade Commission said.

FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz said Google also agreed to licence standard patents on "fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms" to rival mobile devices such as Apple Inc.'s iPhone, Research in Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry and smartphones running on a Microsoft Corp.'s Windows software. Those patents came as part of Google's $12.4-billion acquisition of device maker Motorola Mobility Holdings last May.

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At a news conference, Mr. Leibowitz said that the commission had scoured through some nine million pages of documents and taken sworn testimony from key Google executives on the way to resolving its investigation in a "sensible" fashion.

"This was an incredibly thorough and careful investigation by the commission, and the outcome is a strong and enforceable set of agreements," he said.

"The conclusion is clear: Google's services are good for users and good for competition," David Drummond, Google's top lawyer, wrote in a Thursday blog post.

Google executives also sought to debunk the notion that the company's recommendations are the final word on the Internet. They pointed out that consumers easily could go to Microsoft's Bing, Yahoo or other services to search for information. "Competition is just a click away," became as much of a Google mantra as the company's official motto: "Don't be evil."

The FTC defended itself from likely criticism that it had gone too soft on Google.

Reuters reported in December that Google's critics, anticipating a weak conclusion to the FTC's investigation, may be ready to take their grievances to the Justice Department.

"Even though people would like us to bring a big search bias case, the facts aren't there," Mrl. Leibowitz said, adding that it was "mistaken" for Google's critics to think that criticizing the FTC's deliberations might benefit them in other jurisdictions.

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Investors had already been anticipated Google would emerge from the inquiry relatively unscathed.

Google's stock gained $3.53 to $726.78 in afternoon trading Thursday. Microsoft shed 33 cents at $27.29.

With files from AP

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