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Google Faces New Antitrust Complaints

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Wed, Feb 24, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    Earlier this month, the shopping comparison search engine myTriggers brought an antitrust action against Google, alleging that the search giant unfairly lowered myTriggers’ quality score.

    The company argues that this move resulted in the cost of its search
    ads rising by as much as 10,000% — a prohibitive increase that forced
    myTriggers to stop purchasing pay-per-click ads from Google.

    MyTriggers additionally alleged that, last December, its placement in Google’s organic results plunged for no good reason.

    Lawyers at the firm representing myTriggers in the case — Cadwalader,
    Wickersham & Taft — have represented Microsoft in antitrust
    matters. Those lawyers also are representing another search marketer,
    TradeComet, which filed an antitrust case against Google last year.

    Now it’s come to light that three other companies — Foundem (a U.K.
    price comparison site as well as a member of the Microsoft-funded
    Initiative for a Competitive Online Marketplace), the French legal
    search engine, and Microsoft’s Ciao! from Bing — have
    asked the European authorities to investigate whether Google violated
    antitrust law by lowering their position in the organic results.

    One of those companies, Foundem, raised a similar issue with the Federal Communications Commission. In a filing
    about net neutrality, Foundem complained that Google "gives
    preferential placement to its own Map, News, YouTube, Book, and Product
    Search services" — apparently violating a concept that some
    anti-Google entities have dubbed "search neutrality."

    afternoon, the nonprofit Consumer Watchdog piled on. Consumer Watchdog
    called for the Department of Justice to investigate whether Google "is
    manipulating" search results by returning its own sites high in the
    search results.

    Julia Holtz, Google’s senior competition counsel, said in a blog post
    that the company isn’t intentionally targeting rivals. "Though each
    case raises slightly different issues," she wrote of the three European
    companies who complained, "the question they ultimately pose is whether
    Google is doing anything to choke off competition or hurt our users and
    partners. This is not the case."

    Whatever Google’s motives,
    its moves clearly have angered some search marketers who have seen
    their prices rise, or organic rankings fall, and don’t understand why.
    While these complaints seem to have picked up momentum in recent weeks,
    they’re nothing new for the search giant. As far back as 2006, the
    company KinderStart unsuccessfully sued Google after it stopped showing
    KinderStart’s site in the results. Not only did a federal district
    court judge in California toss the case, but the judge ordered
    KinderStart’s attorney to pay $7,500 in sanctions for having brought
    the action.

    Of course, much has changed for Google in the last
    four years — especially the DOJ’s view of the company’s market
    position. In late 2008, the DOJ forced Google to back out of a deal to
    power search results on Yahoo on the theory that the agreement would
    further extend Google’s dominance in search.

    The assessment of
    DOJ lawyers certainly doesn’t carry the same weight as would a judicial
    ruling against Google. At the same time, now that the Justice
    Department has gone on record with concerns about the company, courts
    and other regulators might not be quite as fast to dismiss complaints
    as in the past.

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