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SF Chron: Google "Undermining Rivals" Says "Antitrust Bulldog"

The San Francisco Chronicle profiles “antitrust bulldog” Gary Reback online today, reporting that he says Google “is undermining rivals in a clear abuse of its monopoly position.” The article says:

“Reback has raised concerns about a number of Google’s practices, but said one of the most obvious problems is the way the company highlights its own products on its search results page. For example, things like Google Maps, YouTube videos and the local business listings and ratings from Google Places often show up at the top of the page, above competitors like MapQuest, Hulu and Yelp.”

Reback’s recitation echoes the concerns of FairSearch members that Google’s proposed acquisition of ITA Software – if allowed to proceed – would enable Google to use its dominance in search and search advertising to advantage its own travel product and disadvantage all competitors.

Reback says it best:

“At least theoretically there’s nothing wrong or improper in Google going into another business. But if you’re going to go into one of these businesses, you shouldn’t use the dominant power of the dominant platform to give yourself an advantage.

When I do a local search now on Google, am I going to get Google Offers at the top of my search results, or am I going to get Groupon?”

It would not be the first time – Yelp much? (See see TechCrunch’s account, “Not Only Is Google Places Going After Yelp, They’re Doing So With Yelp’s Content.”)

TripAdvisor CEO Steve Kaufer told Tnooz’s Kevin May that “Google is manipulating its systems and position to promote Google Places over other competing sites.” Read the whole post here.

This follows a Wall Street Journal article on Friday that Google has refused demands from TripAdvisor to stop using TripAdvisor content on Google’s competing services Place and Hotpot. “I don’t feel like it’s fair to force me to provide information to site that’s trying to compete with me,” Kaufer told the Journal. As reporter Amir Efrati writes:

“The stand-off stems from a broader conflict between Google and some large websites. In recent months, sites including Yelp, WebMD and CitySearch have complained about a Google practice of sometimes promoting links to Google’s own websites above those of non-Google sites in the results page of its search engine. They say the practice threatens to decrease — or has already decreased — Web traffic to their sites in order to boost Google’s Place pages or Google Health pages, among others that were created in recent years.”

We don’t know what industry Google will have in its crosshairs next, but for now, the Justice Department can protect the online travel market from anti-competitive practices by challenging Google’s acquisition of ITA.