The Federal Trade Commission is launching an antitrust probe into Google. The FTC has been investigating Google since last year, as Google first acknowledged in June 2011. At issue is whether Google is using its dominant search engine to promote its other products as well as Google’s Android operating system, all while it claims to offer a neutral result that offers users the best options.
Last week, the FTC hired Beth Wilkinson, a formal federal prosecutor who convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and who is now a partner with the firm of Paul, Weiss in Washington. Her hiring is “a signal by the trade commission that it meant business,” says the New York Times. So far, federal regulators have taken depositions and issued subpoenas involving Google and its competitors.
Google has been under investigation by the European Commission for the past two years about whether it has abused local competition laws. The EC is reportedly on the verge of filing formal charges, or of reaching a settlement.
As Talking Points Memo notes, Google faces a number of legal suits around the globe. In its latest Securities and Exchange Commission quarterly report, the company admitted that the business regulatory agencies of Argentina and South Korea have both opened investigations of the powerful technology company; Google says that it is cooperating with the investigations. In some markets in Europe, Google holds more than 90 percent of the share of the search market. In the U.S., its market share is less than 70 percent.
A spokeswoman said that Google is cooperating with the FTC investigation. In speaking before a Senate committee last fall, Eric E. Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, said that “We don’t trap our users. If you don’t like the answer that Google Search provides, you can switch to another search engine with literally one click.”
Just the week before, Google had agreed to pay a $25,000 fine after the FTC found that it had obstructed an investigation into its Street View project, under which the company planned to photograph every street in the world; Google denied obstructing the investigation. That $25,000 fine only accounted for 68 seconds in profits for Google: In the last quarter, Google made $2.89 billion.
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