Texas Attorney General Uses Google as Political Platform

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2011-02-17 Print this article Print

What is it about Google that attorney generals with no technology background smell blood in the water and decide they want to use the search giant as their political springboard?

The short answer would be Google's growing size. The longer answer is the AG's political ambitions are commensurate with Google's desire to feed every facet of the Web.

Greed is good, and if you can't find another way to lift yourself up, set your sights on taking down the country's most successful Internet company.

Why? Because protecting against the potential harm of consumers and inferior companies is more important than stifling innovation and forcing a company to cough up algorithmic secrets.

Sorry, did I tip my hand too much? Too bad. First, we have Connecticut's former state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who raked Google through the mud last year over the Street View WiSpy scandal, then left for higher office.

Talk about not finishing what you start. If you don't already know about it, ask someone or read up.

Now Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott has unleashed a swath of demands about Google's inner search and ad works from the belly of the Lone Star state.

Abbott asked for reams of info on Google's ad pricing, shopping search and the ranking of Web sites in search results and ad listings.

This goes back to September, when Google said Abbott was conducting an antitrust probe of complaints that the company stifles Websites that compete with its search engine.

The cases cover those brought by shopping comparison Websites Foundem and myTriggers, and search directory SourceTools.

Foundem, whose case is running in parallel with a similar investigation by the European Commission, claims Google unfairly lowers its rankings to boost its own Google Product search service.

MyTriggers and SourceTools argue Google denigrates their ad placement on its search engine, causing the companies to lose money.

Bloomberg, which broke the news, noted:

The antitrust investigators also are seeking Google documents that show "manual overriding or altering of" search result rankings, according to Texas's civil investigative demand. The order is similar to a subpoena, compelling a company to turn over documents and make executives available for interviews.

State investigators also want Google documents on rivals Microsoft Corp.'s Bing and Yahoo! Inc. and complaints about purchasing and placing an ad on Google, the world's most popular Internet search engine.

There is as yet no tangible proof of Google monkeying with search results or ad listings to bolster its services. But Google is huge as a search engine, indexing billions of pages for 1 billion-plus searchers, with 65.6 percent market share in the U.S. and more outside the country.

Google also offers a bunch of other Web services, which it surfaces high in its results where its algorithm believes it is a good fit for a user's search.

Naturally, the target on its back is huge, with a tendency to believe, or want to prove that Google is manually messing with search results to boost its own Google Product Search and other services.

Google, which believes Microsoft is fueling much of this antitrust sentiment to put its own Bing search engine in a brighter light, told me:

Since we started Google we have worked hard to do the right thing by our users and our industry, and while there's always going to be room for improvement, we're committed to competing fair and square. We're continuing to work with the Texas Attorney General's office to answer their questions and understand any concerns.

One good turn deserves another. That's a very political answer for an issue brought to bear by an AG with political ambitions. I'm not alone in my sentiment.

I'm still waiting for courts in Europe and a U.S. court to find proof that Google is guilty of anticompetitive acts stemming from allegations by smaller rivals that few people have heard of.

Find proof of Google goofing with search results, which would be so stupid for a company with so much on the line? Great, I'll eat crow. Until then, this is a political game by greedy AGs itching to raise their profile by taking on the big G.

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