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FTC looking into Android, too, in Google probe

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Federal Trade Commission is investigating whether Google is preventing device makers that use Android from using rival technology.

In addition to probing Google's strategies for building its search business, federal antitrust regulators are also looking into whether Google is barring smartphone makers that load the company's Android mobile operating system on their devices from using competitors' services, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The Journal, citing "people familiar with the probe," reported today that lawyers from the Federal Trade Commission are asking whether the Web giant is preventing device makers that use Android from also featuring services from Google competitors. It's unclear from the Journal report if that relates to other mobile operating systems, such as Windows Phone, or other mobile applications, such as mapping services. But a number of handset makers that use Android, such as HTC, also sell devices that run Windows Phone software.

It's been six weeks since the FTC served Google with civil subpoenas. At the time, Google Fellow Amit Singhal wrote in a blog post that the agency has "begun a review of our business," but added that it was "unclear exactly what the FTC's concerns are." The presumption has been that trustbusters would focus on Google's market power in search advertising as well as Web search, businesses that it dominates in the United States.

The Journal noted that the FTC is also looking into whether "Google grants preferential placement on its website to its own products." That's an allegation that's surfaced over the years from rivals, who claim that Google's search results favor the company's services. And the Journal reported that regulators are also "looking into allegations that Google unfairly takes information collected by rivals, such as reviews of local businesses, to use on its own specialized site and then demotes the rivals' services in its search results."

Google has denied breaking antitrust laws or engaging in unfair business practices. A Google spokeswoman declined to comment specifically about the investigation, telling CNET, "We understand that with success comes scrutiny. We're happy to answer any questions they have about our business."

Related stories:
• Google says trustbuster concerns are 'unclear'
• FTC, Senate rachet up Google antitrust probes
• From ZDNet: Why the FTC is likely to hit a dead end probing Google's Android

Updated at 3:12 p.m. PT with comment from Google.