After 18-Month Probe, Staff Reportedly Wants To Sue Google On Business Practices
San Francisco, CA -- (SBWIRE) -- 11/16/2012 -- The Federal Trade Commission is reportedly nearing a decision point on whether it will sue Google, charging it with anticompetitive business practices. After an 18-month investigation, according to several news reports, agency staff have sent FTC officials a detailed 100-page memo outlining a case against the search engine giant for allegedly anti-competitive practices in its search and marketing practices.
Google daily handles over three billion search requests from around the world, and last year accounted for over two-third of search traffic in the United States. Some of Google’s business rivals, including online review site Yelp and e-retailer Nextag, claim the Mountain View, California-based search giant uses its dominant position to their disadvantage.
The Fair Search Coalition, an anti-Google group, claims the company tweaks its search methods in ways giving an unfair advantage to Google’s own services, like its online shopping and travel services.
Google has denied any wrongdoing, but promised to cooperate with the investigation. CEO Larry Page did, however, last month warn a tech audience he saw “overregulation of the Internet and restriction of what people can do is a big risk for us."
In the past, the company has argued that its methods for determining the best search results, as “scientific opinion,” deserve free-speech protections. Defenders of the company have also argued regulatory agencies, to the extent they have any business intervening in the workings of the Internet, should devise generally applicable rules for everyone, rather than bring an enforcement action against one large company.
Press reports have claimed four of the five FTC commissioners favor bringing an antitrust lawsuit, but an agency spokesman declined comment. FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz said last month the agency would decide by year’s end whether to sue Google.
European antitrust authorities have also said they are studying issues like those before the FTC, but this summer praised Google, without giving details, on progress they said the company was making towards an agreement resolving those concerns. The attorneys general of six states have also begun their own probe of Google.
If the FTC decides to bring suit against Google over its search and search marketing practices, the result might be the largest, most expensive antitrust challenges to hot Silicon Valley since the failed case brought against Microsoft late in the 1990s.
The agency could seek to force the firm to disgorge millions in past profit, or might attempt to break up Google, perhaps by forcing the sale of some of its affiliated businesses. Another possibility would be a less far-reaching negotiated settlement, perhaps requiring greater disclosure in search results when Google owns a company.
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