Tuesday 16 January 2018

Google facing possible antitrust investigation by US regulators

Probe of dominant player in internet-search industry would cost company 'a lot of money and time'

Google: possible antitrust investigation. Photo: Getty Images
Google: possible antitrust investigation. Photo: Getty Images

Jeff Bliss and Sara Forden

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is considering a broad antitrust investigation of Google's dominance of the internet-search industry.

Before proceeding with any probe, the FTC is awaiting a decision on whether the Justice Department will challenge Google's planned acquisition of ITA Software Inc, as a threat to competition in the travel information-search business.

The FTC and Justice Department share responsibility for oversight of antitrust enforcement, and the outcome of the ITA matter may determine whether the two agencies will vie for control of a broader probe of Google.

The two agencies sometimes negotiate which one will handle major antitrust investigations.

An FTC investigation of Google, the world's most popular search engine, "could be on par" with the scope of the Justice Department's probe of Microsoft a decade ago, said Keith Hylton, an antitrust law professor at Boston University School of Law.

Google "could fight the FTC, but that's going to cost a lot of money and time".

The Justice Department may soon announce its decision on Google's purchase of ITA.

FTC commissioner Thomas Rosch said in an interview last month he supported a probe of the dominant players in the internet-search industry, without specifying companies. Mr Rosch, one of two Republicans on the five-member commission, is the only commissioner to say publicly that such an investigation is in order.


Any investigation of the industry should focus on Mountain View, California-based Google, owner of the world's most popular search engine.

"Since competition is one click away on the internet, we work hard to put our users' interests first and give them the best, most relevant answers to their queries," said Adam Kovacevich, a Google spokesman. "We built Google for users, not websites."

Cecelia Prewett, a spokeswoman at the FTC, and Gina Talamona, a Justice Department spokeswoman, declined to comment.

Google shares fell 0.5pc to the equivalent of $582.92 in German trading in Frankfurt. Yesterday, the shares closed at $587.68 in Nasdaq Stock Market trading.

Google is facing growing scrutiny from regulators as it bolsters its search business. Officials in Texas and the European Commission have started investigations into Google's search dominance, while Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is considering such a probe.

The EU probe was examining whether Google discriminated against other services in search results and stopped websites from accepting rival adds.

A complaint from Microsoft last month may expand the investigation to online video and mobile phones.

The state of Wisconsin is weighing an examination of Google's bid to buy Cambridge, Massachusetts-based ITA, which provides data for airline ticket fares to online travel sites.

Lawmakers including senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, and senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, have urged the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust to hold a hearing on Google's dominance of internet businesses.

Irish Independent

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