Diane Bartz of Reuters, citing three unnamed sources familiar with the FTC’s ongoing probe into the California-based search engine giant, said that four commissioners believe that Google “illegally used its dominance of the search market to hurt its rivals.”
The fifth commissioner is “skeptical,” according to Bartz, who added that a “long list” of other firms have complained to the Commission about Google’s tactics and have asked them to take action. Two of the three sources told Reuters that the FTC could decide what action to take, if any, by the end of November or beginning of December.
According to VentureBeat‘s Jennifer Van Grove, the FTC has been investigating Google’s practices for more than a year, and have interviewed rival search engines such as Nextag and Yelp during the probe. They have reportedly compiled a 100-page memo in which they recommend a lawsuit accusing the firm of unlawful anti-competitive practices.
New York Times reporter Steve Lohr, who has called the FTC probe of Google “the most far-reaching antitrust investigation of a corporation since the landmark federal case against Microsoft in the late 1990s,” said that the company has been focusing on whether or not the Mountain View-based firm “manipulates search results to favor its own products, and makes it harder for competitors and their products to appear prominently on a results page.”
Lohr also said that the FTC has been preparing a legal team, should the government pursue a case against Google. The commission hired “seasoned litigator” Beth A. Wilkinson of Washington last spring, and recently approached University of California, Berkeley Economist Richard Gilbert for his services as a consultant, the New York Times reporter said.
Should the US government pursue antitrust action against Google, the focus of their probe would likely be “the purity of the search results” provided by the company, and specifically whether or not it gives preference to their own products and services at the expense of their competition, explains Forbes Contributor Anthony Wing Kosner.
“This is the nub of the F.T.C.s possible case against Google, but whatever concessions the company might make, either to avoid a trial or in response to its outcome, should have to deal not only with the present playing field, but also with how it does or does not expand into adjacent lines of business,” he wrote. “Google could make the case… that its braiding of search and commerce and mobile provide a more integrated experience for users.”
“The problem,” Kosner added, “is that users cannot readily test the alternatives. Google is an incredibly useful tool and an incredibly powerful company. The question for users, and by extension the FTC, is at what point its power begins to diminish its utility.”