IndustryThe Developing FTC Google Search Antitrust Case

The Developing FTC Google Search Antitrust Case

The FTC is preparing to launch an antitrust case against Google's search division. The company is facing accusations of unfairly favoring its own services in its search results.

“An antitrust case against Google’s search division is in process. Google is a practical monopoly, with enough buying power to easily eclipse – or own – would-be competitors – but the size of Google isn’t the main concern. Rather, the company is facing accusations of unfairly favoring its own services in the SERP.

The Details of the Fledgling Case

The various reports on the antitrust case are using terms like “on the horizon,” “around the corner,” or similar near-future descriptors. This case hasn’t actually launched yet, but various parties familiar with the issue have confirmed that the initial stages have already begun.

One of those stages included, according to a letter obtained by Bloomberg, prompting Google to send one of its top-level executives (namely Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman, or Larry Page, CEO) to meet with a Senate panel. When Google didn’t willingly send one of its executives over, the panel threatened subpoenas.

The panel may be one of the more civil, negotiatory elements of the antitrust case. The FTC, who will be handling the main of the case, will be working with Google representatives and Google competitors to determine if Google is unfairly favoring its own search results. Numerous subpoenas, as well as a full-scale federal investigation, are likely elements of the upcoming case.

The Google Anti-Competition Accusations

According to the Wall Street Journal, accusations are primarily “that Google’s anticompetitive practices include using other companies’ content without their permission, deceptive display of search results, manipulation of search results to favor Google’s products, and buying up competitive threats to its dominance.” The biggest adversary to Google in this case are the travel referral (like TripAdvisor, Expedia, and, although several other companies are vocal about Google’s choices.

What these groups are referring to when they say “deceptive display of search results” is Google’s choice to promote their own listings, showing local businesses in a Google Maps or Google Places element, showing credit card and mortgage data through Google’s own related services, or even just displaying ads through its own network.

Google Mortgage SERP

While Google states that it provides these services so they can more directly provide users with answers, it’s certainly true that referral-based businesses are cut out of the loop – without getting a particularly even chance to compete.

Jay Herratti of the local business information section of IAC stated that, “[Google] should compete on fair terms, but they’re not subjecting their own content to the same standards by which they judge ours.” He directly accuses Google of guaranteeing themselves perfect positioning while using data, such as aggregated review information, from competitors.

Update: Google Responds

Google has confirmed that Google yesterday “received formal notification from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission that it has begun a review of our business,” according to this blog post by Google’s Amit Singhal. He also wrote, in part:

“It’s still unclear exactly what the FTC’s concerns are, but we’re clear about where we stand. Since the beginning, we have been guided by the idea that, if we focus on the user, all else will follow. No matter what you’re looking for—buying a movie ticket, finding the best burger nearby, or watching a royal wedding—we want to get you the information you want as quickly as possible. Sometimes the best result is a link to another website. Other times it’s a news article, sports score, stock quote, a video or a map.”


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