You are on page 1of 14

The Honorable Acting Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen

Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest
Washington, DC 20580




September 11, 2017



Dear Acting Chairman Ohlhausen,



I am writing to inform you that Google appears to be in violation of the
commitments it made to the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) following the
Commission’s investigation into Google’s practices in online search and to urge that
the FTC take action to remedy these violations.1

As you know, Google committed to a five-year period of allowing third-party
website owners to opt-out of any form of their crawled content from being displayed
on certain Google properties.2 Specifically, Google promised to “cease displaying
crawled content from the domain name designated by the website owner on
Covered Webpages on the google.com domain in the United States.”3 The term,
“Covered Webpages,” included “G+ Local” and any successors.4

In response to a cease and desist letter demanding Google remove Yelp content from
its “Local OneBox” in July of 2011, Google’s Vice President of Local stated Google
would be, “removing third-party snippeted reviews from Place pages and changing
our aggregate star rating and review count numbers so that they come from only
Google reviews.”5 Following its December 2012 commitments to the FTC, Google
created a tool allowing webmasters to manage these permission settings on their
own and included all third-party content in the scope of this opt-out tool. The
documentation for this tool states, “If you choose the opt-out option, content from
your site that has been crawled by Googlebot will not be displayed on [Google
Local].”

1 Letter from Google Chief Legal Officer David Drummond to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, December 27, 2012,

available at https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/closing_letters/google-
inc./130103googleletterchairmanleibowitzdf (“Google Commitments Letter”).
2 Google Commitments Letter, pp. 1-2.
3 Id., p. 2.
4 Id., p. 1 at n. 1.
5 Email exchange between Marissa Mayer and Yelp CEO attached as Appendix A.
As Google ultimately complied with the cease and desist demand, the scraping of
Yelp content stopped eighteen months before the suspension of this behavior was
codified in Google’s commitments letter to the FTC. As such, Yelp content was
already opted out of inclusion when the webmaster tool was launched. At no point
since the introduction of the tool has Yelp authorized the display of its content
within Local OneBoxes appearing on Google.com.6 Google has resumed the display
of Yelp content in its Local OneBox, the successor to Google+ Local. Specifically,
Google is scraping image content of local businesses posted by Yelp users and
displaying this content as part of Google’s own local search results.7

A technique developed by Yelp’s engineering team has allowed Yelp to estimate a
fraction of the frequency of Google’s scraping behavior. Over the period of a single
hour of measurement, the technique detected 385,888 incidents of Google’s
scraping. Given the detection method only captures a fraction of incidents, a
conservative estimate suggests Yelp content is being displayed in violation of
Google’s commitments to the FTC at the rate of thousands of violations per minute.
In at least one instance, when the media reported on similarly aggressive and
anticompetitive content by Google, the company dismissed the issue as a “bug.”8 The
scale of this image content scraping suggests this is not an unintended glitch, but a
systematic contravention of Google’s commitments to the FTC.

Despite the scale of Google’s renewed scraping of Yelp content, it appears carefully
designed to evade detection. In the attached example set of fifty instances
(randomly selected from the 385,888 incidents), it seems Yelp images are only
displayed in cases where Google has a small number of images for the business
listings and where the listings’ traffic is relatively low.9 While the conduct primarily
occurs in the United States, international examples of the conduct have also been
uncovered. This conduct mirrors the same behavior the FTC staff identified and
deemed “unlawful” in 2012. In the FTC case team's own words, “Google’s scraping
conduct helped it maintain, preserve, and enhance Google’s monopoly position in
the markets for search and search advertising.”10 Commissioners embraced the
recommendation by the staff to condemn and prohibit content scraping, which led
to Google’s letter of commitments.

When the FTC accepted Google’s commitments and decided to close its
investigation, the Commission concluded its public statement on the decision with a
promise to “remain vigilant and continue to monitor Google for conduct that may
harm competition and consumers.”11 Following a 2013 oversight hearing,
Chairwoman Ramirez responded to a question from Senator Patrick Leahy by noting

6 Screen shot showing Yelp’s opted out status attached as Appendix B.
7 A visual diagram of the image content scraping attached as Appendix C.
8 https://www.recode.net/2015/11/24/11620920/google-says-local-search-result-that-buried-rivals-yelp-

tripadvisor
9 Spreadsheet attached as Appendix D.
10 http://graphics.wsj.com/google-ftc-report/
11 Statement of the Federal Trade Commission Regarding Google’s Search Practices, In the Matter of Google, Inc.,

FTC File No. 111-0163, January 3, 2013, available at http://bit.ly/1QFQco4
that, “Google has stated publicly that material violations of its commitments would
be actionable under the FTC Act, and Google will submit periodic compliance
reports to the Commission. We will use this and other information to monitor
Google’s activities.”12

Accordingly, I urge the FTC to examine whether Google has strayed from its
commitments to the Commission, in violation of the FTC Act and the commitments
Google made to the FTC in January 2013 which the FTC relied upon in closing its
investigation. Google should be held accountable and subject to remedies sufficient
to ensure its anticompetitive conduct does not continue to harm competition and
consumers.



Sincerely,


hthnbn
Luther Lowe
Vice President of Global Public Policy
Yelp



CC The Honorable Federal Trade Commissioner Terrell McSweeny
European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager
The Honorable United States Senator Mike Lee
The Honorable United States Senator Amy Klobuchar
The Honorable Congressman Tom Marino
The Honorable Congressman David Cicilline
The Honorable Steve Marshall, Attorney General of Alabama
The Honorable Leslie Rutledge, Attorney General of Arkansas
The Honorable Mark Brnovich, Attorney General of Arizona
The Honorable Leslie Rutledge, Attorney General of Arkansas
The Honorable Xavier Bacerra, Attorney General of California
The Honorable Cynthia Coffman, Attorney General of Colorado
The Honorable George Jepsen, Attorney General of Connecticut
The Honorable Matthew Denn, Attorney General of Delaware
The Honorable Karl Racine, Attorney General of the District of Columbia
The Honorable Pam Bondi, Attorney General of Florida
The Honorable Chris Carr, Attorney General of Georgia
The Honorable Douglas Chin, Attorney General of Hawaii
The Honorable Lawrence Wasden, Attorney General of Idaho

12 FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, Responses to Questions for the Record from Sen. Patrick Leahy, available at

https://www.judiciary.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/041613QFRs-Ramirez.pdf.
The Honorable Lisa Madigan, Attorney General of Illinois
The Honorable Curtis Hill, Jr., Attorney General of Indiana
The Honorable Tom Miller, Attorney General of Iowa
The Honorable Derek Schmidt, Attorney General of Kansas
The Honorable Andy Beshear, Attorney General of Kentucky
The Honorable Jeff Landry, Attorney General of Louisiana
The Honorable Janet Mills, Attorney General of Maine
The Honorable Brian Frosh, Attorney General of Maryland
The Honorable Maura Healy, Attorney General of Massachusetts
The Honorable Bill Schuette, Attorney General of Michigan
The Honorable Lori Swanson, Attorney General of Minnesota
The Honorable Jim Hood, Attorney General of Mississippi
The Honorable Joshua Hawley, Attorney General of Missouri
The Honorable Tim Fox, Attorney General of Montana
The Honorable Doug Peterson, Attorney General of Nebraska
The Honorable Adam Laxalt, Attorney General of Nevada
The Honorable Gordon MacDonald, Attorney General of New Hampshire
The Honorable Chris Porino, Attorney General of New Jersey
The Honorable Hector Balderas, Attorney General of New Mexico
The Honorable Eric Schneiderman, Attorney General of New York
The Honorable Josh Stein, Attorney General of North Carolina
The Honorable Wayne Stenehjem, Attorney General of North Dakota
The Honorable Mike DeWine, Attorney General of Ohio
The Honorable Mike Hunter, Attorney General of Oklahoma
The Honorable Ellen Rosenblum, Attorney General of Oregon
The Honorable Peter Kilmartin, Attorney General of Rhode Island
The Honorable Alan Wilson, Attorney General of South Carolina
The Honorable Marty Jackley, Attorney General of South Dakota
The Honorable Herbert Slatery, Attorney General of Tennessee
The Honorable Ken Paxton, Attorney General of Texas
The Honorable Sean Reyes, Attorney General of Utah
The Honorable TJ Donovan, Attorney General of Vermont
The Honorable Mark Herring, Attorney General of Virginia
The Honorable Bob Ferguson, Attorney General of Washington
The Honorable Patrick Morrisey, Attorney General of West Virginia
The Honorable Brad Schimel, Attorney General of Wisconsin
The Honorable Peter Michael, Attorney General of Wyoming


APPENDIX A
July 13, 2011 letter from Yelp demanding Google end scraping of all Yelp
content, including photos

APPENDIX A
July 21, 2011 email from Google VP of Maps and Local acknowledging receipt
and plan to end scraping of review and ratings content.

APPENDIX A

August 5, 2011 email from Google acknowledging the removal of “Yelp
content” identified in the cease and desist letter

APPENDIX B






APPENDIX C
Example search: [happy hollow park and zoo] (Desktop – Search engine result page)

APPENDIX C
Example search: [happy hollow park and zoo] (Desktop – After clicking on image within OneBox)



APPENDIX C

Example search: [happy hollow park and zoo] (Desktop – Search engine result page)











Scraped photo
Scraped enlarged upon
image click





















Example search: [happy hollow park and zoo] (HTML showing image location as Yelp server)
APPENDIX C



APPENDIX C
The original source of the image content was uploaded by Yelp Elite user Noelle J.

APPENDIX D
Business Name City, State Yelp URL of affected business with original image content
Bow Tie Annapolis Mall 11 Annapolis, MD http://www.yelp.com/biz/7ZFjcdaGkJr8oY8COJ121A
Cinemark Movies 16 San Antonio, TX http://www.yelp.com/biz/Ga_UalIQP1fbWzfqQlGWUQ
Altitude Trampoline Park Austin, TX http://www.yelp.com/biz/_0qQAGnOtYQ0-hsQ-2dn3g
AMC Bethlehem 12 Bethlehem, GA http://www.yelp.com/biz/p3j-y441VNN8m-LSOtwgeA
Lakewood Ranch Cinemas Bradenton, FL http://www.yelp.com/biz/8NZoHKkcYGaYLK6_G6Bffw
Cinepolis Chetumal Chetumal, MX http://www.yelp.com/biz/tpbEljfm4rAVkZosMQbgBg
Ventra Customer Service Center Chicago, IL http://www.yelp.com/biz/DgG88c5AiRuz8eELN9UfUA
Tower City Center Cleveland, OH http://www.yelp.com/biz/V3Hz6fC1w4TQJj-PkXMiRw
AMC Clifton Commons 16 Clifton, NJ http://www.yelp.com/biz/gwoSdn_GJv5bN7zHrIoIpg
Corona del Mar State Beach Conora Del Mar, CA http://www.yelp.com/biz/fLR4rTwk9fjgbixZT-Wnpg
AMC Cupertino Square 16 Cupertino, CA http://www.yelp.com/biz/KpzVmN4Ehd-m8piLHvbbwA
Cedar Ridge Preserve Dallas, TX http://www.yelp.com/biz/OPNkUZNKHPKAPgiY4zClxQ
Dumb Friends League Denver, CO http://www.yelp.com/biz/Xu5pp5eoQobgUYfc24iQQw
California Department of Motor Vehicles El Cerrito, CA http://www.yelp.com/biz/HtoXChoDNfyW_Jrci66_Eg
DMV El Monte, CA http://www.yelp.com/biz/MzifA2nqkEiTkRASA4IKuw
Cinemark East Montana El Paso, TX http://www.yelp.com/biz/EF0fp3_CVjByXUZHqgAORg
AMC El Paso 16 El Paso, TX http://www.yelp.com/biz/TuwYat1VwvYT0Ple1No0ZQ
Chase Auto Finance Fort Worth, TX http://www.yelp.com/biz/0Z7nGwVBkDHOoaMusGccKw
AMC Fullerton 20 with Dine-in Theatres Fullerton, CA http://www.yelp.com/biz/HnSKGDUkRLdA3UPqqD0E5g
Greenfield Garden Cinemas Greenfield, MA http://www.yelp.com/biz/Vi_FFW8quhf_dy7a3pIYMA
Salud Digna Guadalajara, MX http://www.yelp.com/biz/F48H3xB6iaOkPVyo_10SRQ
Cinepolis Gran Terraza Oblatos Guadalajara, MX http://www.yelp.com/biz/cMIDZc73ZwbivoRoQCPNyw
AMC Hickory 15 Hickory, NC http://www.yelp.com/biz/o3miSrmUE41jqzsaFyhLaQ
Broadway Multiplex Cinemas Hicksville, NY http://www.yelp.com/biz/Hr5QasYo2DCjl75HhCqyrw
Cinema 6 Honesdale, PA http://www.yelp.com/biz/PfS4K2JZUoXW1FW1bXQr2Q
Houston Amtrak Station Houston TX http://www.yelp.com/biz/puMJd8a4COk5c1CjBN4KsA
Houston Women’s Clinic Houston, TX http://www.yelp.com/biz/HDY-Dd6BBHkuNZMi2J-d1g
Premiere Renaissance Theater Houston, TX http://www.yelp.com/biz/w1_qZ85T41bqlMy5oUG8Pw
BARC Animal Shelter and Adoptions Houston, TX http://www.yelp.com/biz/vq9WCd5A_HXjOqXOYliDpQ
Blue Lagoon Huntsville, TX http://www.yelp.com/biz/1TOpGhLgRsvcMhaRWODdIQ
Jack’s Small Engine & Generator Service Jarrettsville, MD http://www.yelp.com/biz/mAbghc-FNV5RDQuDv-oyJQ
AMC Newport Centre 11 Jersey City, NJ http://www.yelp.com/biz/bkvAJGcjzcd39GCVans7Lw
America’s Action Territory Kenosha, WI http://www.yelp.com/biz/uaNg_2T0GD5OOiET1TBrig
Regal Cinemas Martin Village 16 & IMAX Lacey, WA http://www.yelp.com/biz/elnN2BWO8vGpM3ENwMVDbg
AMC Classic Lexington 10 Lexington, KY http://www.yelp.com/biz/aaMP4CBBhhyAPFo1psUVTg
SF Kino Lillestrøm Lillestrøm, Norway http://www.yelp.com/biz/7bh0tJkQCGSCMhkje3GMig
Mall at Stonecrest Lithonia, GA http://www.yelp.com/biz/17xWZyEM1G_Srli25odlVw
Landmark Cinemas 8 London London, ON http://www.yelp.com/biz/Z3HCE0f9AxwoyR28ztGYOQ
Longview Family Dental Longview, WA http://www.yelp.com/biz/ICxtSQOaey8SaKUgcsvvuw
Mohican Adventures Loudonville, OH http://www.yelp.com/biz/M2kdxcI8RDKTw2OZzG13kQ
Pacific Mall Markham, ON http://www.yelp.com/biz/OEfvfMCJyC5kRWeRQQYQMg
Blue Hills Reservation Milton, MA http://www.yelp.com/biz/YD1hyAwclK_GG_ZI1eFq9Q
Bow Tie Bellevue Cinema 4 Montclair, NJ http://www.yelp.com/biz/zLiSdCZNzvlvym6oYpy2fA
AMC Classic Festival Plaza 16 Montgomery, AL http://www.yelp.com/biz/YnOFTE4jhL44JJAKEAiZRA
Villalobos Rescue Center New Orleans, LA http://www.yelp.com/biz/QNBMq7Yd67mCCb_6odVPLQ
New York Dolls New York, NY http://www.yelp.com/biz/_beRBqoeeoTHMTVu9SWfTA
Capital Mall Olympia, WA http://www.yelp.com/biz/PUqfC7688NBFS_OITwAojA
DMV - Opa Locka Branch Opa-Locka, FL http://www.yelp.com/biz/E4FRRv-P1q7aT2upOTgVVg
AMC Classic Blueridge 14 Raleigh, NC http://www.yelp.com/biz/SVzvj9QDeDIlXn9cJP_Ocg