The FTC is reportedly adding Google's "Search, plus your world" service to its federal antitrust inquiry into the company's search practices. Search experts agree this is the logical course.
Trade Commission is reportedly expanding its antitrust probe of Google to
include the company's new "Search, plus your world" social-search
feature, an effort to make users' results more personal.
both said Jan. 13 that the FTC is looking into the matter because it is
concerned Google is providing preference to Google+ over Web services from
others, breaking its promise to provide unbiased search results.
Search, plus your world injects posts and pictures from
users' Google+ accounts
into their search results. It also makes
users' Google+ contacts and relevant Google+ Pages more readily searchable.
service eschews such content from Facebook and Twitter, two of the world's
leading social services that users have come to expect content from on search
engines. Google's failure to treat third-party sources equal to Google+ in
search results drew complaints from the media, Twitter
and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)
EPIC Jan. 12 complained to the FTC that Google is skewering
and antitrust rules just to keep up with Facebook.
appears to be listening to the Internet's concerns, which echo complaints
brought to bear by senators who complained
that Google was ranking
its own products higher than those of Yelp, Expedia and others in its search
Search Engine Land's
Greg Sterling told eWEEK
promotion of Google+, seemingly without giving "equal time" to other
networks, plays right into the chief complaint of many of Google's antitrust
critics: that the company favors its own products and properties at the expense
of competitors. Google either mishandled the communication around the rollout
or demonstrated a kind of strange na???vet??Â« about how critics might react.
declined to comment on whether or not the FTC had contacted it about the new
social-search issue. However, the company was unapologetic as to how Search,
plus your world excludes Facebook, Twitter and other sources in its results.
are designed to help consumers benefit from innovation, not to help
competitors," a Google spokesperson told eWEEK
. "We believe that our improvements to search will
benefit consumers by better surfacing social content, and the great thing about
the openness of the Internet is that if users don't like our service, they can
easily switch to another site."
There is some
truth to this viewpoint. Casual users of Google+, Facebook and Twitter-that is,
the majority of social service users-tend to go to all of those Websites
separately and don't expect content from one would necessarily be in the other.
other viewpoint espoused by some search and Internet experts is that the
world's leading search engine must not exclude data sources from its search
There is often
a gray area between playing fairly and actually violating antitrust laws, which
are designed to protect consumers, not necessarily competitors in
said Google's practice is not necessarily an antitrust matter. Mark A. Lemley,
a professor at Stanford Law School who directs the program in law, science and
technology, told The New York Times
the move should not be viewed
in anticompetitive terms.
be the rule that if Facebook says no, you can't search our links, that Google
can't search its own links. That is not antitrust," Lemley said.
Still, the FTC
can't ignore this issue, given the media outcry. "Even if the EPIC complaint
hadn't been filed, I would have expected the FTC to examine this," Search Engine Land's
Danny Sullivan told
. "The investigation is
still ongoing, so you'd obviously want to include this."