The Federal Trade Commission is reportedly expanding its investigation into Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) search business to include the company’s Android mobile operating system and Web services.
The Wall Street Journal said the FTC has asked whether Google prohibits smartphone makers that make phones based on Android from using rivals’ services.
It is unclear what those services entail. There is no evidence that Google forces Android OEMs, such as Motorola Mobility, HTC and Samsung, to use its search engine over Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Bing or Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO). Bing powers some Verizon Wireless phones, while Yahoo provides search for some AT&T handsets.
Rather, the FTC’s inquiry may concern allegations made against Google by Skyhook Wireless, which is suing the search engine for interfering with its business and patent infringement.
In the tortious interference case, Skyhook claimed Google coerced Motorola (NYSE:MMI) and Samsung to stop using its location database software in favor of Google’s own location database.
Skyhook CEO Ted Morgan told eWEEK that Google wants OEMS such as Motorola and Samsung to use its software because it gives Google control of location information on users that is crucial for improving its search services.
Google is already facing a serious patent infringement suit against Android from Oracle, which is seemingly close to convincing a California judge that the company infringed, and possibly willfully so, on Java software used to form the core of Android.
Meanwhile, the FTC’s also alleged made inquiries into whether Google favors its own Places local search service, Google Product Search, and Google Finance.
Specifically, the Journal said the FTC is gauging allegations that Google takes reviews of local businesses from services such as Yelp and CitySearch to use on Places and then demotes the rivals’ services products.
Yelp, CitySearch and others have reportedly voiced their complaints to the FTC on the matter. In an effort to show that it doesn’t violate antitrust laws, Google last month removed snippets of reviews published from these companies from Places.
Google, which has denied engaging in anticompetitive practices, reiterated that it intends to comply fully with the FTC’s inquiry.
“We understand that with success comes scrutiny,” said a Google spokesperson. “We’re happy to answer any questions they have about our business.”
Sources familiar with Google’s thinking claim that the company isn’t sure what focus the FTC is taking because it has not tipped its hand to the company.
Meanwhile, the Journal said the FTC is preparing to send out subpoenas to companies in the hope of collecting documents and evidence in its investigation.
One company that remains all too eager to help is Microsoft, which will use Google’s legal woes — and its experience in knowing what federal regulators look for in such cases from its own antitrust suit from the Justice Department a decade ago — to try to bolster its own search business.