FTC Likely Asking Microsoft, Yahoo About Google Search Monopoly

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2011-05-02

FTC Likely Asking Microsoft, Yahoo About Google Search Monopoly

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is allegedly asking Microsoft, Yahoo and several other well-heeled high-tech companies to cull information about Google's imperious command of the Web search market.

The FTC warned the companies that it will issue civil investigative demands for the information, which are tantamount to legal subpoenas, according to Bloomberg.

The publication, citing anonymous sources, said the FTC waited until its antitrust regulator peers at the U.S. Justice Department blessed Google's purchase of online travel data provider ITA Software for $700 million. 

Both Google and Microsoft declined to comment for this story. An inquiry to the FTC was not answered as of this writing, though the agency refrains from commenting on investigations.

However, the FTC is likely to seek information from Google's rivals in the search market, where it commands a 65 percent share in the United States and 90 percent in Europe. These rivals include Microsoft, whose Bing search engine has about 13 percent market share in the United States and less overseas, as well as Yahoo, whose search engine Bing currently powers.

"I don't think you're off the mark to assume that Microsoft, among others, would have been contacted," said a source familiar with the FTC's thinking. "Other parties that may have been contacted would be Yahoo, Amazon, Facebook, eBay, Yelp, Ask.com, as well as some of the online travel companies that make up FairSearch.org (Expedia, Kayak)."

FairSearch.org is a coalition of online travel companies originally forged to keep ITA from falling into Google's grasp. Microsoft joined FairSearch.org to protect its Bing search engine's access to ITA data.

While the DOJ granted Google the right to acquire ITA, it did so with prejudice, requiring the search engine to agree to stringent conditions geared to fostering fair competition in the online travel space.

FairSearch.org spokesman Thomas Barnett, whoas a former assistant attorney general led the DOJ's Antitrust Division from 2005 to 2008 and currently counsels Expedia,, said the DOJ's approval decree showed the agency has a continued interest in monitoring Google, opening it to a broader antitrust inquiry.

FTC Set to Hit Google with Antitrust Complaint

Barnett also promised FairSearch.org will continue to argue for such an inquiry on behalf of companies concerned.

While Microsoft, FairSearch.org and others may be legally obligated to feed the FTC information about Google's position in the search market, they would add to a growing glut of antitrust scrutiny against Google in the United States and abroad.

The European Commission began scrutinizing Google last November based on allegations from Foundem, eJustice and Microsoft's Ciao that the search engine surfaces links for its own Web services over those of the smaller comparison-shopping engines on Google.com.

The Commission is also looking into allegations that Google lowered the quality score for sponsored links from competing search services and whether Google prevented ad partners from placing competing ads from some vendors on their Websites.

Microsoft joined this cause in March, arguing that Google restricts other search engines from properly cataloging YouTube videos in search results and that Google prevents those YouTube videos from running well on Windows Phones, among other complaints.

Texas State Attorney General Gregg Abbott ignited his own antitrust investigation against Google in February when he asked for info on Google's ad pricing, shopping search, and the ranking of Websites in search results and ad listings.

He also wants Google documents that show "manual overriding or altering of" search result rankings. Meanwhile, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is said to be weighing his own probe.

Eleanor Fox, a law professor at New York University, told Bloomberg that an FTC antitrust investigation into Google would be a serious matter that could paint "Google as the next Microsoft."

Microsoft potentially pumping the FTC with cannon fodder for its investigation versus Google blankets the matter in irony. 

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