The Google Universe – Anti-Trust Investigation by FTC NOT Front Page News for NY Times

Posted on June 25, 2011


It seems editors and search engines have much in common.  The news that Goliath Google is being investigated by the FTC for its search and advertising practices was not front page news for the New York Times.  It was front page back of the bus in the tech section.

Any time our behaviors as consumers are overly manipulated by dubious business practices, it should be front page news.  It is an assault on our freedoms to approach a search engine such as Google that has become an international standard with anything less than the confidence that a  query, no matter the subject, would be executed in a way that would bring back the most pertinent information in as “unedited” a fashion as possible.  Allegedly, this is not the case with Google.

The investigation will not necessarily lead to accusations of misconduct against the company. If it does, it could become the most serious antitrust challenge for Google to date.

In a blog post, Google said it was unsure about the precise focus of the commission’s concerns. But it began outlining its defense against accusations, made by some of its rivals, that it had manipulated its search results to favor its own services at the expense of others.

Google’s business practices and its dominance over the Internet have come under scrutiny from the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission a number of times in recent years. But the previous cases focused either on acquisitions or on portions of Google’s business that were not critical to its survival, like its plan to create a giant digital library.

The current investigation focuses on the heart of Google’s business, the search and advertising systems that account for nearly all of the company’s $29 billion in annual revenue.

“This is major league,” said Ted Henneberry, a former trial lawyer at the Justice Department and a partner at Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe. Google is facing a similar challenge in Europe, where the European Commission opened an investigation into Google’s business late last year. “Given what’s happened in Europe, they must have known this was inevitable,” Mr. Henneberry said.

In a statement, FairSearch.org, an organization that represents several of Google’s critics, including Microsoft and the Web sites Expedia, Travelocity and Kayak, said that Google’s “anticompetitive practices include scraping and using other companies’ content without their permission, deceptive display of search results, manipulation of search results to favor Google’s products, and the acquisition of competitive threats to Google’s dominance. Google’s practices are deserving of full-scale investigations by U.S. antitrust authorities.”

Google’s search engine practices have also became a matter of interest for Congress. The Senate Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee has asked the company to send Eric E. Schmidt, the executive chairman, or Larry Page, the chief executive, to testify before the committee on issues relating to competition in Internet search. Google declined, instead offering to send David Drummond, the chief legal officer, saying he was best prepared to answer questions on the topic.

In a statement, Mike Lee of Utah, the ranking Republican senator on the committee said: “I’m very disappointed in Google’s response to the request to have Larry Page or Eric Schmidt testify at our subcommittee hearing.” Mr. Lee has suggested that the committee might issue subpoenas to compel Google’s top two executives to testify.

SamHenry’s disenchantment with Google searches began when the put such an emphasis on local results that benefited local business advertisers but that skewed the information available on any topic.  Let us hope this is only the beginning of peeling back the power of this giant.  I do not want Google to know where I am or what I am doing.  Ditto Facebook.  The information gatherers and manipulators bear close scrutiny.

Remainder of article is here.

Posted in: Uncategorized