WASHINGTON, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- The U.S. Federal Trade Commission says Google, in a settlement, has agreed to change its business practices following a two-year antitrust investigation.
Under the agreement, Google's competitors will gain access to standard-essential patents while advertisers will have more flexibility to use rival search engines, an FTC release reported Thursday.
Google agreed to change some practices competitors had charged could stifle competition in the markets for popular devices such as smartphones, tablets and gaming consoles, as well as the market for online search advertising, the FTC said.
"The changes Google has agreed to make will ensure that consumers continue to reap the benefits of competition in the online marketplace and in the market for innovative wireless devices they enjoy," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said. "This was an incredibly thorough and careful investigation by the Commission, and the outcome is a strong and enforceable set of agreements."
Google has for several years been presenting its own products, like its Google+ social network, in search results for websites featuring local business listings, airline schedules and weather reports, which has often pushed competitors' listings lower on search results pages, bringing criticism by rivals and even Congress.
"Undoubtedly, Google took aggressive actions to gain advantage over rival search providers," Beth Wilkinson, an outside counsel to the Commission, said. "However, the FTC's mission is to protect competition, and not individual competitors. The evidence did not demonstrate that Google's actions in this area stifled competition in violation of U.S. law."
Google still faces a parallel investigation by regulators in the European Union, where antitrust laws are much tighter.
Google is expected to offer some concessions to EU officials later this month.
Google, Yahoo ads are on pirate sites
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- A report has linked Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. with websites that feature pirated movies, TV shows and music, saying the companies are placing ads on the sites.
Researchers at the University of Southern California say analysis of online ads on sites that receive the most copyright infringement notices puts Google and Yahoo among the top 10 advertising networks that support major piracy sites around the world, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.
Google has responded to the report by calling its conclusion "mistaken" while Yahoo did not respond to request for comments, the Times said.
"To the extent (the study) suggests that Google ads are a major source of funds for major pirate sites, we believe it is mistaken," a Google spokesperson said.
The researchers who prepared the reports said they hoped major brands would use the information to make decisions about online ad spending and steer dollars away from sites that exploit film, television and music.
"Whenever we talk to a brand about the fact that their ads are all over the pirate sites, they're like, 'Oh, how did that happen?'" Jonathan Taplin of USC's Annenberg Innovation Lab said. "We thought it would be easier if they knew what ad networks were putting ads on pirate sites -- so they could avoid them."
Ad networks identified as placing ads on the alleged pirate sites includes Openx, a Pasadena company backed by AOL Ventures that describes itself as a leader in digital and mobile ad technology; Google and its advertising platform, DoubleClick; Yahoo and its ad exchange, Right Media; and Quantcast, a San Francisco firm that also places ads on sites owned by such major media companies as NBCUniversal and Viacom, the USC report said.
Another report, funded by Google and the Performing Rights Society for Music in Britain, found that advertising provides about 86 percent of the financing for file-sharing sites that feature illegally distributed content.
Milky Way may have 100 billion planets
PASADENA, Calif., Jan. 3 (UPI) -- U.S. astronomers say a study suggests planets are in fact the cosmic norm and estimate the Milky Way galaxy contains at least 100 billion planets.
A team of astronomers at the California Institute of Technology made the estimate while analyzing planets orbiting a star called Kepler-32, worlds they say are representative of the vast majority in the galaxy and are a perfect case study for understanding how most planets form.
Kepler-32's planets were detected by the Kepler space telescope, and the researchers have analyzed the five-planet system and compared it to other systems found by the Kepler mission, a Caltech release reported Thursday.
Kepler-32 is an M dwarf, a type that accounts for about 75 percent of all stars in the Milky Way, and its planets are typical of the class of worlds the telescope has discovered orbiting other such stars.
It's a system astronomers say will help in understanding planet formation in general.
"I usually try not to call things 'Rosetta stones,' but this is as close to a Rosetta stone as anything I've seen," planetary astronomy Professor John Johnson said. "It's like unlocking a language that we're trying to understand -- the language of planet formation."
Based on their study of Kepler-32, the astronomers have calculated that there is, on average, one planet for every one of the approximately 100 billion stars in the Milky Way.
"There's at least 100 billion planets in the galaxy -- just our galaxy," Johnson said. "That's mind-boggling."
Jan. 1 snow cover set U.S. record
STATE COLLEGE, Pa., Jan. 3 (UPI) -- Snow coverage in the United States on New Year's Day was the most in 10 years with, 67 percent of the 48 contiguous states covered by snow, meteorologists say.
That surpassed the previous record, set in 2010 when the new year saw 61 percent of the United States beneath snow, AccuWeather.com reported Thursday.
That was the year of the mid-Atlantic blizzard dubbed "Snowmaggedon" that set a long list of records in cities such as Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore.
"As far as New Year's Days go, I think that our  snow cover is very healthy," AccuWeather.com Expert Senior Meteorologist Jack Boston said.
Unusually low snow coverage percentages since record keeping began in 2004, with the exception of 2010, have been an anomaly, Boston said.
"The temperature of the North Atlantic ocean has been in a warm cycle and that has resulted in eastern North America, on average, having milder temperatures during the last decade," he said.
However, he said, most of the contiguous United States was above normal in snow coverage for the month of December 2012 as well.