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Google close to deal with FTC: May fob off probe with 'tweaks' - report

Eric Schmidt's eleventh-hour horse-trading may just have paid off

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A lengthy regulatory Stateside investigation of Google's search business practices is reportedly coming to an end with the outcome expected to be favourable for the company and bitterly disappointing for its rivals.

On Saturday, Politico cited people familiar with the probe currently being carried out by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which according to insiders is days away from making its decision public.

It's understood that Google will voluntarily agree to make several changes to its search estate to allay the federal watchdog's concerns. It could also mean that the ads giant would then avoid having to sign the "consent decree" it was so keen on dodging last month. Such a document would tie Google down to a number of legally binding terms laid out by the FTC.

Among other things, Mountain View is said to be planning to change how it serves up snippets of user product reviews and its search services for topics such as shopping and travel. As noted by Politico, Yelp and TripAdvisor have complained long and hard about Google's data-scraping methods.

Ts&Cs on the company's Ad Words service are also supposedly set to be changed to allow data for comparison to be more easily shared among other search sites such as Microsoft's Bing, the report said.

Settlement talks have reportedly been going on between Google and the FTC for the past two weeks. It's understood that the watchdog is keen to wrap things up before the rumoured departure of Jon Leibowitz from his chairmanship of the commission.

Politico further reported that Google was likely to sign a consent decree with the FTC over its handling of the patents it scooped up when it bought Motorolo Mobility. Under that deal, Google is expected to commit to licensing its patent tech to competitors on fairer terms - but such an agreement would stop short of a total ban on Google seeking injunctions against use of its patents.

At the start of December, Leibowitz met his European counterpart Joaquin Almunia in Brussels to discuss their independent probes of Google's search business. ®

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