Google Antitrust Investigation Mulled by FTC

The Federal Trade Commission is reportedly looking into whether to launch a broad antitrust query regarding Google's search engine business.

While the European Commission has scrutinized Google's search engine business for anticompetitive practices since last November, U.S. regulators have watched from a distance.

Now, it appears the U.S. is getting ready to make its own play to hound Google. Bloomberg cited two anonymous sources claiming the U.S. Federal Trade Commission is mulling a broad antitrust investigation of Google's search business.

The publication noted that the FTC is waiting to see whether its colleagues at the U.S. Department of Justice clear or challenge Google's bid to buy ITA Software for $700 million.

The DOJ is investigating whether the deal would help or harm competition in the market for airline fare and schedule search.

The DOJ and FTC split duties on antitrust oversight, based on each antitrust committee members' expertise. On that score, the FTC defers to the DOJ in competition matters concerning the travel sector.

The FTC aggressively investigated Google's acquisition of mobile-ad provider AdMob, seeking the counsel of mobile-ad providers and industry analysts before blessing the deal last May.

The FTC did not return eWEEK's call seeking comment.

Bloomberg said the DOJ's finding in the ITA deal might determine whether the two agencies would compete for control of a broader probe of Google.

The FTC, given its previous, choppy investigation of Google's mobile-search and ad business, could well choose to dig deeper into Google's current desktop-search hegemony.

Google currently commands 65 percent of the U.S. search market, but the company is never slow to point out that it is easy for users to select another search engine. A Google spokesperson told eWEEK April 5:

"Since competition is one click away on the Internet, we work hard to put our users' interests first and give them the best, most relevant answers to their queries-whether it's a Web page, news article, image or map. We built Google for users, not Websites, and serving our users is our No. 1 goal."

Nevertheless, the whiff of an antitrust inquiry stateside knocked Google shares down nearly 3 percent, to $571 on Tuesday, the day after Google co-founder Larry Page re-assumed the CEO role from the man he gave it to in 2001, Eric Schmidt.

It will be interesting to see whether regulators move more aggressively against Google now that a leader with less patience for being politic runs the company.

An FTC investigation would run in parallel with the one in Europe, where vertical search engines and Microsoft accused Google of demoting their Websites in favor of its own services.

Also, Texas state Attorney General Gregg Abbott is looking into Google's search and search-ad practices. Ohio AG Mike DeWine is also considering a closer look.