Much like Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) when it dominated the exploding PC operating system market in the 1990s, it seems Google (NASDAQ: GOOG ) is the target of a slew of lawsuits, allegations, investigations, and possible sanctions. Running around with a bulls-eye on is the price industry leaders often pay for dominating markets, and Google is certainly no exception.
The recent announcement that Google has come to an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission eases at least some of the regulatory pressure. Now, Google and its shareholders can concentrate on the positives, right? Well, actually, there are still those folks over at the European Union, Google's competition -- including Microsoft, and the new and improved Yahoo! -- not to mention a couple of attorneys general.
The assertions the FTC investigated include concerns that Google copied content, and didn't provide analytics to its search engine customers for comparison purposes. But the real kicker were its "favored services." In other words, Google's own results seemingly always made the top of the returned search lists -- to the detriment to competitors.
So, what's Google agreed to do to make it all go away? Compose a carefully crafted letter, promising to change for the better, and the FTC will call the dogs off Google. Needless to say, the seemingly easy out for Google isn't so easy for its competitors to swallow.
We are not amused
A group called fairsearch.org, with charter members including Microsoft and Yelp, is not enamored with what appears to be the end of the FTC's investigation. In an email to Bloomberg, the group stated that should the FTC not take action, "Google will only be emboldened to act in ways that are more harmful to consumers and innovators."
The latest agreement with the FTC doesn't do much to appease the European Union, and its assertions that Google unfairly stacks its search result rankings in addition to trying to stifle its competition. Nor does the recent agreement address similar concerns brought against Google by several U.S. state attorneys general.
What's it mean for Google investors?
Ignoring the many complaints against Google isn't wise; a serious legal or ethical breach can be costly for any company, regardless of size or market share. But don't let the provocateurs weigh too heavily on your investment decision-making process. Google is a dominant force, and getting stronger, and that means allegations of impropriety are likely to keep coming; that's just the way it is.
On the business side of things this past week, there's a lot to like for potential Google investors. Its announcement about a week ago that Google had garnered interest in its Motorola Mobility's set-top box unit, with bids possibly approaching $2 billion and retaining its valuable licensing rights, would be a major win.
More recently, Google and longtime nemesis Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) joined forces, as strange as that sounds, on a couple of interesting deals. Combining their respective clout to bid for Kodak's extensive patent portfolio, to the tune of $500 million, should save both of them millions versus bidding on them individually. The reinstatement of Google maps for the iPhone is, of course, what's made waves the past few days. And, based on early download results at Apple's iStore, everyone's a winner with the new Google map arrangement.
At 15 times forward earnings, a history of outstanding operating cash flow, and an ever-increasing pile of cash on the balance sheet, Google remains an outstanding growth opportunity. Toss in a successful new smartphone and tablet, an exploding Google+ user base, and those industry-leading analytics, and Google's poised -- with or without that bulls-eye on its back.
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