FTC readies Google antitrust swoop

Google is back in hot water, with US law makers getting ready to look at its search engine business.

Sources at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have told the Wall Street Journal that they will open a formal enquiry within the next few days, which will look at claims that Google manipulates search results to direct users to its own sites and services.

Travel websites such as Expedia and TripAdvisor have long moaned they are missing out on traffic as Google directs users to its own services, while those in the shopping and search space have also had a similar beef. They say Google’s own websites often show up at the top of the results, no matter if there are better independent services out there.

Google better get its house in order if it wants to please the government. The investigation will be extremely thorough, according to the WSJ, with the probe set to be the broadest federal inquiry into Google to date.

However, according to legal eagles, if the investigations come up short, the way businesses compete in the online space could be changed forever.

Google might not actually be legally penalised, as under US antitrust laws it isn’t illegal for a company to dominate a particular sector. But if Google is found to have abused its position, the story may be completely different.

The US also took an interest in grumblings from Microsoft last year. At the time, the company got the European Commission on the blower to complain about unfavourable treatment of services in Google’s unpaid and sponsored search results. That was coupled with claims of an alleged preferential placement of Google’s own services.

The shriekings were heard by US senates who waded into the row in March this year, saying the company’s dominance meant that it had a “myriad [of] opportunities for anticompetitive behaviour.”

If that wasn’t enough, Google will also be investigated by courts in California, New York and Ohio for similar antitrust allegations.

Companies thought to be in cahoots will also face federal probes later this year.