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Google Confirms FTC Investigation

In a post to The Official Google Blog this morning, Google fellow Amit Singhal* confirmed recent press reports that Google’s business practices were the subject of an FTC antitrust probe.

“Yesterday, we received formal notification from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission that it has begun a review of our business. We respect the FTC’s process and will be working with them (as we have with other agencies) over the coming months to answer questions about Google and our services.”

In fact, Google would be required to respond to the FTC’s requests for information – civil versions of subpoenas, reports say. Google claims it’s “still unclear exactly what the FTC’s concerns are.” But there’s certainly no shortage of anticompetitive behavior for the FTC to examine.

We’ve outlined a number of examples of how Google is using its enormous power in search and search advertising to undermine competition and artificially direct users to its own sites, including:

  • Deceptive display: Steering users toward its own products by displaying them at the top or in the middle of the results page as if they were natural search results;
  • Search manipulation: Artificially manipulating its search algorithm to exclude, penalize or promote specific sites or whole categories of sites;
  • Content scraping: Stealing content developed by other websites, such as user reviews, without permission and displaying that content on its own pages, sometimes even without attribution;
  • Acquisitions: Buying up companies that present a nascent competitive threat or the critical technologies they depend upon (see ITA);
  • Unfair treatment of advertisers and partners: Manipulating advertisers quality scores to inflate ad prices and lower their natural search results position, imposing exclusivity restrictions in its syndication and distribution agreements to maintain and expand its dominance, and placing restrictions on its “must buy” ad platform that prevent customers from using competing platforms.

The members of FairSearch.org applaud the FTC for looking into these important issues and closely examining how Google’s anticompetitive behavior harms consumers by limiting transparency and competition that foster greater consumer choice and innovation online. After all, consumers – not Google – should pick winners and losers online.

*Yep. The same guy who called Google “the biggest kingmaker on this Earth.”