Google Probe Reason for FTC Calls to Companies

Friday, 29 Apr 2011 07:02 PM

 

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 The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is alerting high-tech companies to gather information in preparation for a probe of Google Inc.’s dominance of the Internet search industry, three people familiar with the matter said.

The agency told the companies that it plans to issue so- called civil investigative demands for the information, said the people, who requested anonymity because the FTC hasn’t made the matter public. The demands are similar to subpoenas.

The FTC, which has been considering undertaking a broad investigation, waited until the Justice Department concluded its own review of Mountain View, California-based Google’s acquisition of ITA Software Inc., two people familiar with the matter said earlier this month. The Justice Department on April 9 approved Google’s $700 million purchase of ITA on the condition it makes travel data available to search-engine rivals and lets the government review complaints it is acting unfairly.

A Google spokesman, Adam Kovacevich, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail and two phone calls seeking comment.

Cecelia Prewett, an FTC spokeswoman, declined to comment.

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.

Republican Support

Thomas Rosch, a Republican who is one of five FTC commissioners, said in an interview last month he supported a probe of the dominant players in the Internet-search industry, without specifying which companies.

Rosch is the only commissioner to say publicly that such an investigation is in order.

The FTC in February hired Timothy Wu, an information industries scholar, and Edward Felten, known for cracking the music industry’s digital-copyright protection code, as the agency’s technology chief.

In his first interview since joining the FTC, Wu said last week that dominant Internet companies should be barred from monopolizing more than one market.

Microsoft Corp., Kayak.com, Expedia Inc. and other Google competitors banded together as FairSearch.org to oppose the acquisition of ITA, which makes software that provides data for online travel sites such as Orbitz Worldwide Inc. They said the deal would reduce competition and called on the Justice Department to impose conditions for the transaction.

The EU probe is examining whether Google discriminated against other services in search results and stopped websites from accepting rival ads. A complaint from Microsoft last month may expand the investigation to online video and mobile phones.


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