US FTC Pushes Antitrust Suit Against Google
The Federal Trade Commission of the United States is raising the ante in its antitrust confrontation with Google with the commission staff preparing a recommendation that the government sue the search giant.
Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the F.T.C., said the agency would decide whether to sue Google by the end of the year while Joaquín Almunia, competition commissioner for the European Union, said he was troubled by Google’s dominance.
The government’s escalating pursuit of Google is the most far-reaching antitrust investigation of a corporation since the landmark federal case against Microsoft in the late 1990s. The agency’s central focus is whether Google manipulates search results to favor its own products, and makes it harder for competitors and their products to appear prominently on a results page.
The staff recommendation is in a detailed draft memo of more than 100 pages that is being shared with the five F.T.C. commissioners, said two people briefed on the inquiry.
The memo is still being edited and changes could be made, but these are mostly fine-tuning and will not alter the broad conclusions reached after an inquiry that began more than a year ago, said these people, who spoke on the condition that they not be identified.
Google rivals specializing in travel, shopping and entertainment have accused Google, the world’s No. 1 search engine, of unfairly giving their web sites low quality rankings in search results to steer Internet users away from their websites and toward Google products that provide similar services.
Computer users are overwhelmingly more likely to click on the top results in any search. The low ranking often forces companies to buy more ads on Google to improve their visibility, one source said.
The agency also is examining whether the company is using its control of the Android mobile operating system to discourage smartphone and device makers from using rivals’ applications, two of the people said.
The FTC began making calls to high-tech companies to gather information for its probe in April 2011 and Google disclosed in June of that year that the FTC had begun a review of its business practices.
On the patent investigation, the agency is scrutinizing whether a strategy of seeking court orders to ban Apple Inc. and Microsoft from using mobile and video compression technology is anticompetitive, said the people.
Meanwhile, Google has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.