In an investigation that could hypothetically break up the search behemoth, the Federal Trade Commission, as well as a number of states and the European Union, are examining Google for anti-competitive practices. But is rival Microsoft behind some of the actions?
The European Union began its investigation in December, following complaints starting the previous February, according to the Wall Street Journal.
At issue is whether Google manipulates search results to disfavor providers of Web services, such as price-comparison tools, that Google competes with. The European Commission also is investigating allegations that Google restricts the advertisements that can be displayed by website operators who use some of its services."
Now, the FTC has followed suit; though it is not commenting itself, Google confirmed this in a blog post, which said it was cooperating with the investigation, and subtly reminded people that its search engine was free, that other search engines were available, that ads were always plainly marked, and so on.
In addition, attorneys general in Texas, California, New York and Ohio have also started their own investigations, according to the Financial Times.
Where Does Microsoft Fit In?
This is all a lot of deja vu for people around in the 1990s, when Microsoft also came under similar scrutiny, described the FT. In fact, there was talk about Microsoft splitting into two companies, one for the operating system and one for applications.
Whether this gave Microsoft the idea or if it's just looking for an opportunity to attack its rival, Microsoft is also connected with several of the current complaints about Google. A piece by SearchEngineLand has links to several articles about Microsoft's involvement, and Microsoft filed its own complaint to the European Commission in March, after a Microsoft subsidiary was one of the original complainants. According to the Wall Street Journal, "Microsoft has said it isn't behind others companies' actions, but merely helps direct them to the proper authorities." Oh, okay.
The concern is that, while Google's search engine is free, its search results are unfairly promoting its own businesses, which becomes more of an issue as the company continues to acquire companies in other areas, such as the travel industry.
On the other hand, the Google case is different from the Microsoft one, and has a much higher burden of proof, according to this extensive analysis in ReadWriteWeb:
Microsoft's legal battle with the federal government was essentially about tying Internet Explorer to its Windows operating system. At the time, Windows controlled almost the entire personal computing world, hence Internet Explorer was the de facto choice for Web browsing. In the end, Microsoft was found to be in violation of sections of the Sherman Antitrust Act, which is the statute the feds use to go after monopolies. This is not what Google is facing. Google will be investigated under the Federal Trade Commission Act's Section 5, which deals with deceptive and unfair acts and practices.
"There has not been a successful Section 5 litigated case since 1972," said David Balto, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and former policy director for the Bureau for Competition at the FTC."