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FTC edges towards Google antitrust case, sources say

Google could be under scrutiny for allegedly promoting its own services over competitors' in search rankings.

It seems highly likely Google will have an antitrust case brought against it by the Federal Trade Commission, Reuters reports.

After more than a year of investigation, most of the top bods at the FTC think the big G should be the subject of a case, according to sources. Google is accused of illegally using its dominance in Internet search to hurt rivals. A decision on how to proceed could come late next month, or in early December.

Companies including consumer reviews website Yelp and price comparison site Nextag have complained about Google. They've accused it of bumping its own results higher than its competitors' in search rankings. Travel, shopping and entertainment seem to be the main areas in which companies say Google is steering searchers towards its own services instead of rivals'. Having a low ranking forces companies to buy more adverts on Google to improve their visibility. Which means more cash for Google.

Google spokesperson Niki Fenwick told Reuters: "We are happy to answer any questions that regulators have about our business." Back in September 2011, Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt told the Senate Judiciary Committee's antitrust panel: "May I simply state that I can assure you we've not cooked anything."

Just in case you were wondering, cooking here obviously refers to the tweaking of search results to favour Google over competitors -- so nothing to do with being in the kitchen.

According to anonymous sources, the FTC has given considerable weight to the fact that Google refuses to share data with advertisers. This would let partners compare the value they get on Google compared to advertising spend on Bing or Yahoo.

The FTC is also looking into Google's smart phone patents (many of which it acquired when it bought Motorola and its vast patent library) to see if they're licensed on fair terms.

Google could be in for yet another lengthy and expensive court case then, it seems. Let me know what you think of the claims against Google in the comments below, or on our Facebook page.