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Senators Call for Google Antitrust Probe

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Mon, Dec 19, 2011 at 4:59 pm

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Senators Call for Google Antitrust Probe

The top Senators on the Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust Subcommittee are expressing concern to the Federal Trade Commission over Google’s business practices and the Internet giant’s impact on competition in Internet search and commerce.

Monday’s letter to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz from Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) the panel’s chairman, and Mike Lee (R-UT), the ranking member comes after Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt testified before the subcommittee in September. The Senators’ letter said:

“We believe these allegations regarding Google’s search engine practices raise important competition issues. We are committed to ensuring that consumers benefit from robust competition in online search and that the Internet remains the source of much free-market innovation. We therefore urge the FTC to investigate the issues raised at our Subcommittee hearing to determine whether Google’s actions violate antitrust law or substantially harm consumers or competition in this vital industry.

You probably recall that Consumer Watchdog had been calling for Schmidt’s testimony for more than a year, before he finally agreed — under the threat of subpoena — to appear before the Antitrust Subcommittee.  Part of that campaign included satirical videos, like “Supercharge,” which featured avatar style-animations of Schmidt and CEO Larry Page.

And when Schmidt finally did show up to testify, we sent our “Google Track Team” to demonstrate in the Dirksen Senate Office Building and dramatize the need for privacy laws and Do Not Track regulations.

The Senators’ letter took “no position on the ultimate legality of Google’s practices under the antitrust laws and FTC Act,” but urged that the concerns raised at the hearing “warrant a thorough investigation by the FTC.”

The FTC is already on the case, having confirmed last summer that is investigating Google’s business practices.  Given the partisan rancor that is the current reality in Washington, this bipartisan letter sends a powerful message of support to the FTC’s landmark investigation.

And, it’s not just the FTC that’s asking the right questions. As Kohl and Lee noted in their letter, attorneys general in Texas, New York, California, Ohio, Mississippi and Oklahoma also opened full-scale investigations.  The European Union is in the second year of its own investigation.

The Senators letter notes that, “rather than act as an honest broker of unbiased search results, Google’s search results appear to favor the company’s own web products and services.”  They go on to suggest that “under the the FTC’s mandate to protect consumers from misleading and deceptive practices, the FTC should seriously consider requiring Google to label its ‘inbox’ or ‘places’ listing (or other similiar listings), as Google products, just as it labels paid search results.”

You may recall how our study, “Traffic Report: How Google is Squeezing out Competitors and Muscling Into New Markets,” documented that with the launch of “universal search” Google properties had an unfair advantage over competing sites.

Consumer Watchdog has been calling for antitrust action against the Internet giant since 2010. Clearly policymakers are finally listening.

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This post was written by:

John M. Simpson

- who has written 361 posts on Inside Google.

John M. Simpson is a leading voice on technological privacy and stem cell research issues. His investigations this year of Google’s online privacy practices and book publishing agreements triggered intense media scrutiny and federal interest in the online giant’s business practices. His critique of patents on human embryonic stem cells has been key to expanding the ability of American scientists to conduct stem cell research. He has ensured that California’s taxpayer-funded stem cell research will lead to broadly accessible and affordable medicine and not just government-subsidized profiteering. Prior to joining Consumer Watchdog in 2005, he was executive editor of Tribune Media Services International, a syndication company. Before that, he was deputy editor of USA Today and editor of its international edition. Simpson taught journalism a Dublin City University in Ireland, and consulted for The Irish Times and The Gleaner in Jamaica. He served as president of the World Editors Forum. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Harpur College of SUNY Binghamton and was a Gannett Fellow at the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii. He has an M.A. in Communication Management from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

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