January 3, 2013, 4:14 PM

Google agrees to settle antitrust case with the U.S.

Online marketers could find it easier to manage multiple search campaigns.

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Online marketers could have an easier time managing multiple paid search campaigns in the wake of a proposed deal that would close a federal antitrust investigation of Google Inc.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission today announced the negotiated settlement of its 19-month investigation into Google’s search practices. The commission says it found no evidence that Google manipulated search results solely to limit competitors’ visibility in search results  in favor of Google’s own products. Specifically, the commission said that Google’s Universal Search—which combines results from Google News, videos and other areas—and changes to Google’s search algorithms “could be plausibly justified as innovations that improved Google’s product and the experience of its users,” according to the commission’s statement.

Google made concessions to the commission, but the agreement includes no major mandatory changes in how Google conducts its search advertising or operates the mathematical formulas that determine search rankings for retailers. The changes include Google giving outside web sites the “ability to opt out of display on Google vertical properties.” Such decisions by other web sites would not lead to Google punishing them in natural search results. Such sites might withhold, for instance, reviews from Google that Google might incorporate into its own products, such as the Google Shopping comparison search engine.

Google also says it will make it easier for paid search advertisers to use their data in non-Google campaigns, such as those conducted on the Bing search engine, Google’s main rival. The change involves application programming interfaces, or APIs, that help manage paid search data. “Advertisers can already export their ad campaigns from Google AdWords,” David Drummond, Google’s senior vice president and chief legal officer, says in a statement today. AdWords is Google’s paid search product. “They will now be able to mix and copy ad campaign data within third-party services that use our AdWords API.”

Kenshoo Inc., which provides software to help retailers manage paid search and online marketing programs, is a vendor that uses the AdWords API, says Yoav Izhar-Prato, Kenshoo CEO. “We commend Google for addressing the issue of advertising data portability,” he says. “Today’s announcement will make Kenshoo’s advanced tools even more attractive to advertisers who want to manage all their search campaigns in one place and optimize overall results.”

Conservative commentators welcomed the agreement. “The tech sector should find today’s ruling encouraging in that the U.S. government has signaled a willingness to allow market force to play out, and not punish success and innovation,” says Steven Titch, telecom and Internet policy analyst at the Reason Foundation.

The commission said it would accept public comment on the deal until Feb. 4, after which it will decide whether to make it final.

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