FTC: Google Could Be Target of Antitrust Probe

Monday, 04 Apr 2011 10:19 PM

 

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The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is considering a broad antitrust investigation of Google Inc.’s dominance of the Internet-search industry, two people familiar with the matter said.

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, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter is still confidential.

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 people said. The two agencies sometimes negotiate which one will handle major antitrust investigations, with the decision turning on their respective expertise.

The Justice Department may soon announce its decision on Google’s purchase of ITA, said the people familiar with the matter.

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 which companies. Rosch, one of two Republicans on the five-member commission, is the only commissioner to say publicly that such an investigation is in order.

The people familiar with the matter said any investigation of the search 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.


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