Google might face FTC search crackdown

Reuters says most of group's commissioners think Google should be slapped with antitrust suit regarding search dominance, and The New York Times reports that commission is preparing staff memo recommending that government sue.

The Federal Trade Commission wants to crack down on Google for using its search dominance to hurt rivals, according to a pair of reports published today.

Four of the FTC's five commissioners believe Google illegally used its position as the top search provider to hurt competition, according to a report from Reuters, which cites people familiar with the matter.

And The New York Times cited its own unnamed sources in reporting that the commission is preparing a 100-page staff memo recommending that the government sue.

The FTC, which has been investigating the situation for more than a year, will make a decision on how to proceed in late November or early December, the Reuters report said.

A Google srepresentative told CNET that the company is "happy to answer any questions that regulators have about our business."

This wouldn't be the first time Google has faced government scrutiny. The FTC in August hit Google with a $22.5 million fine -- its biggest ever for violation of an FTC order -- for Safari tracking. Google had placed advertising tracking cookies on computers of Safari users who visited sites within Google's DoubleClick advertising network even after Google had assured the users they'd be automatically opted out of the tracking.

The FTC is also looking into whether Google has been blocking access to industry-standard patents that should be licensed to competitors according to traditional industry and legal practice.

Google has been the king of search for ages, and it has tended to gain share while rivals like Yahoo have struggled. ComScore data yesterday showed that 66.7 percent of users' core searchers in September were made on Google. The second closest rival, Microsoft, had only 15.9 percent.

Google's Eric Schmidt testifying last year before a U.S. Senate subcommittee on antitrust. Screenshot by Jay Greene/CNET
The giant has faced heightened criticism over recent months, even having to testify in Congress last year about possible antitrust allegations. Executives from rivals Yelp and Nextag testified in Congress a year ago that Google doesn't play fair and "rigs" search results to direct users to its services instead of those of competitors.

Google has maintained it hasn't done anything wrong, with Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt telling Congress last year that Google is no Microsoft .

Update, 2:50 p.m. PT: Adds comment from Google.

Update, 5:15 p.m. PT: Adds mention of New York Times report.

 

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