Google Facing Antitrust Scrutiny in Ohio, Wisconsin?

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2011-03-25 Print this article Print

Bloomberg cited a state official and some other person who claimed that Ohio and Wisconsin are weighing whacking Google with antitrust investigations over its business practices:

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is "evaluating the facts to determine if it's something we want to review," Dan Tierney, his spokesman, said. In Wisconsin, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is weighing a probe of Google's bid to buy ITA Software Inc., according to a person familiar with the matter who declined to be identified because the process isn't public.

Let's back up a bit to last year. First Europe, then Texas in the U.S. began fielding complaints from smaller companies that claim Google is pushing down their Websites in its rankings in favor of its own.

Now, Ohio is apparently looking into the same issue, while Wisconsin is concerned with Google's increasingly acquisitive nature.

Most online travel companies hate the ITA bid, fearing Google will get too much control in their sector. They're apparently convincing states of this, too. Why the heck is Wisconsin messing with this?

Oh, right. Because Google's having too much control could hurt not only companies but consumers. And because Senator Herb Kohl is the Wisconsin Democrat who heads the Senate antitrust subcommittee, and he is concerned about it.

Anyone else want to pile on? As the world's largest search engine with 65 percent share in the U.S. (and more abroad), Google is a legal target for, well, the entire world.

Think about this. Millions of companies jockey for position on Google. Google has launched product search and other services, so when its own services pop up over those of startups, it has opened itself to being the company that giveth then taketh away.

What is the law regarding companies who build free platforms (though advertisers pay, don't they?) and then began offering rival services that ding the startups it initially helped out?

My guess is those Websites paying to advertise via AdWords and AdSense, might have a complaint. Not that they're paying for search rank placement when we all know PageRank is the big arbitrator (wink, wink).

Harry First, a professor at New York University School of Law in Manhattan, drew a keen parallel between the states circling Google and the antitrust suit brought by states and the U.S. in 1998 versus Microsoft.

"In the Microsoft case, there was a constant drumbeat from the states. Their intent was to hold the Justice Department's feet to the fire," First, who ran New York state's antitrust bureau during Microsoft's appeal, told Bloomberg.

We joke a lot about how Google is the new Microsoft, both in size and power and in its waning coolness as Facebook, Twitter and others take its place.

But maybe it's time to start taking the theory seriously because state politicians are certainly treating Google more like an enemy than a search tool. Interestingly, Bloomberg also noted how neither the Justice Department nor the Federal Trade Commission has launched broad antitrust inquiries into Google.

One wonders if they plan to attack by a thousand tiny cuts, or if they simply don't believe they have enough to go on at this time. |

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