Discover what's up in the business of marketing each Friday.
Googleopoly: The Definitive Guide To Antitrust Investigations Against Google
We’re another step closer to the US Federal Trade Commission launching an expected antitrust investigation of Google. If it does, the FTC will join the EU and Texas in doing broad investigations. But Google’s been examined for antitrust issues many times before this and mostly come through OK. Here’s our comprehensive guide to Google and antitrust actions, over the years.
December 2007: FTC Approves Google Purchase Of DoubleClick
Perhaps Google’s first real antitrust challenge, it had to fight for approval to purchase DoubleClick. Plenty of opponents lined up against the deal, but Google won FTC approval in December 2007 and later EU approval in March 2008. Some background stories:
- Complaint Over Google-DoubleClick Acqusition Expected To Be Filed At FTC Today
- Battelle Chats With Microsoft’s General Counsel On Google/DoubleClick Antitrust Allegations
- Federal Trade Commission Opens Antitrust Investigation Over Google’s DoubleClick Deal
- German Data Protection Commissioner Opposes Google-DoubleClick Deal
- FTC’s Xmas Gift To Google: Approval Of DoubleClick Acquisition
- EU Approves Google-DoubleClick Acquisition
Nov. 2008: DOJ Helps Kill Google-Yahoo Search Deal
In November 2008, Google pulled out of a proposed deal to power Yahoo’s search results, over fears that the US Department Of Justice would file a monopoly suit against the company, if it went ahead. To date, this has been the company’s only major loss in an antitrust conflict.
Outcome? If the hope was to make Yahoo stronger, and keep the search marketplace more competitive, the results are mixed. Once Google was out of the picture, Microsoft was pretty much the only partner left for Yahoo. Microsoft went from being willing to pay $8 billion for Yahoo’s search assets to paying nothing up front and letting Yahoo keep a majority of ad sales.
There’s no particular evidence that the deal has somehow made search ads at Google cheaper, which isn’t surprising. There’s no “rate card” that Google uses to compete against Microsoft for ad sales. Advertisers, instead, compete against each other.
There’s also no particular evidence that the deal has helped Yahoo. The company continues to get battered on the financial front; search share is largely static to dropping, whenever I look. But by effectively taking Yahoo out of the search space (it argues differently), it allowed Microsoft to emerge as the heir to second place throne in mindshare, if not soon in marketshare.
- Yahoo’s Google & Microsoft Deals, Side-By-Side
- US Government Hires Lawyer, Google Shares Lose Value In View Of Potential Anti-Trust Action
- Citing Risk, Google Ends Yahoo Paid Search Deal
- Google Cancelled Yahoo Search Deal To Avoid “Monopoly” Designation
- Microsoft-Yahoo Deals 2008 & 2009, Side-By-Side
- The Yahoo Search Revenue Disaster
May 2010: FTC Allows AdMob Purchase
When Google wanted to buy mobile ad network AdMob, it seemed the Federal Trade Commission was going to say no. But thanks to its bigger fears of Apple, the FTC allowed it to go through:
- Google Ready To Rumble If FTC Sues Over AdMob
- Misplaced Concern: The FTC, Google, Apple & United Airlines
- FTC Decides Not To Block Google-AdMob Acquisition
- A Year Later: AdMob A Critical Mobile Asset For Google
June 2010: French Regulators Rule Google Couldn’t Block Advertiser
Chalk this up to irony. Google’s under pressure in the US to block mobile apps in Android that report DUI checkpoints (something that police departments are actually required to do).
But in France, when it blocked a company that reported speed camera locations — thinking it was complying with French law — it wound up at the end of an antitrust complaint. Google’s challenging the ruling to allow the ads, which it lost:
- French Anti-Trust Authorities Find Google “Abused Dominant Position” In Turning Off Advertiser’s Account
Sept. 2010: Texas Antitrust Investigation, Ads For Favorable Listings?
In Septemer 2010, we broke the news that the Texas Attorney General had decided an investigation of Google on antitrust grounds was in order. To date, I don’t think the office has ever made clear what exactly the “Texas” angle is to this — which major Texas businesses that have been allegedly harmed, for example.
Still, plenty of businesses in Texas purchase ads through Google; plenty of people in Texas use Google. The office is looking in particular on whether Google is trying to use its editorial listings to boost its ad business. IE, buy an ad, get better rankings in Google.
Google has often come under such accusations over the years. I’ve never once seen a case that actually held up.
Other states may dive in. Ohio and Wisconsin are also both said to be considering actions:
- Texas Attorney General Investigating Google & Antitrust Issues
- Texas Officials, Public Interest Lawyers Push For More Disclosures From Google
- Everyone Wants A Piece Of Google: More Antitrust Saber-Rattling By States Attorneys General
Sept. 2010: Skyhook Cries Foul
Perhaps one of the most interesting and strongest cases against Google isn’t from a government body but rather Skyhook Wireless, which has sued Google for unfair business practices. It suggests that Google used its dominance of the “open” Android platform to hinder Skyhook. In South Korea, somewhat similar claims came up in April 2011. More here:
- Skyhook Wireless Sues Google: You Lie About Android “Openness”
- Skyhook Case Giving Google PR Headache
- Antitrust Trouble For Android In South Korea
November 2010: EU Opens Antitrust Investigation
The European Union decided at the end of November that several allegations against Google, in particular that it had tried to keep competitors out of its rankings, warranted investigation. The EU wrote in a press release at the time:
The Commission will investigate whether Google has abused a dominant market position in online search by allegedly lowering the ranking of unpaid search results of competing services which are specialised in providing users with specific online content such as price comparisons (so-called vertical search services) and by according preferential placement to the results of its own vertical search services in order to shut out competing services . . .
The Commission’s probe will additionally focus on allegations that Google imposes exclusivity obligations on advertising partners, preventing them from placing certain types of competing ads on their web sites . . .
Finally, it will investigate suspected restrictions on the portability of online advertising campaign data to competing online advertising platforms
- German Govt. Says Google Becoming ‘Giant Monopoly’
- German Companies Piling On With Anti-Trust Complaints Against Google
- Companies Ask Courts, Regulators To Restrain Google To Compensate For Own Competitive Failures
- EU Steps Up The Pressure: Pursuing Formal Anti-Trust Investigation Against Google
- Microsoft Comes Out Of Shadows With EU Antitrust Complaint Against Google
- European Google Antitrust Questionnaire Revealed
- Google To EU: We’re Always Open To Algorithm Suggestions
December 2010: Japan Approves Google-Yahoo Deal
January 2011: Italian Antitrust Claim Rejected
The Italian Competition Authority looked into claims that Google was being unfair to news publishers. A simple change allowing those publishers to more easily opt-out of Google News and stay in Google Web Search satisfied the regulator. More background:
- Debunking The Italian Newspapers’ Antitrust Allegations Against Google
- Google Says “Ciao” To Antitrust Claim In Italy
March 2011: Google Book Settlement Rejected
Some feared that a proposed settlement over a civil action against Google in book scanning would give it an unfair market dominance in online books. Some irony here, given that Microsoft got out of book scanning years ago as not consumer oriented enough. At any rate, the settlement was rejected. The case remains in limbo, for the time being:
- Microsoft Funds Opposition To Google Book Settlement
- US Dept. Of Justice: Court “Lacks Authority To Approve” Google Book Search Settlement
- Google Book Search Settlement Rejected By Court
March 2011: US Senate Subcommittee To Examine Unfair Rankings
The US Senate still hasn’t launched a formal investigation into Google on antitrust grounds, but that seems likely to happen. In March 2011, Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl, who oversees an antitrust subcommittee, signaled his intentions:
In recent years, the dominance over Internet search of the world’s largest search engine, Google, has increased and Google has increasingly sought to acquire e-commerce sites in myriad businesses. In this regard, we will closely examine allegations raised by e-commerce websites that compete with Google that they are being treated unfairly in search ranking, and in their ability to purchase search advertising.
A hearing is coming up. Google is declining to send CEO Larry Page or exective chairman Eric Schmidt. More here:
- Google Set For US Senate Committee Anti-Trust Investigation
- Eric And Larry Will Pass on the Antitrust Hearing, But if You’ve Got a Dinner Gala Coming Up, Let Them Know
- Google to panel: Page, Schmidt won’t testify
April 2011: DOJ Approves Google-ITA Deal
Despite critics, Google was allowed to purchase travel company ITA, but with some heavy conditions attached to the purchase:
- Microsoft Joins Group Opposing Google-ITA Acquisition
- Gov’t To Okay Google-ITA Deal After Google Agrees To Burdensome Conditions
June 2011: DOJ To Review Admeld Purchase
Google’s planned purchase of ad optimization firm Admeld will likely be reviewed by the Department Of Justice. Fairly minor news on this front; any Google acquisition at this point is likely to get reviewed. More here:
More, More, More!
Still want even more antitrust stories related to Google. Relax, we’ve got you covered. Keep reading!
More Ad-Related Concerns
- South African SEM Firm Files Complaint Against Google SA For “Abuse Of Dominance”
- NY Times On Google’s AdWords Quality Score As Monopolistic & Unfair?
- The Problems With Google’s House Ads
From The “We Really Don’t Like Google” Department:
- 14 “Is Google Evil?” Tipping Points Since 2001
- Break Up Google? Consumer Group To Call For It
- Google Approves Anti-Google Ad Despite AdWords Trademark Issue
- Consumer Watchdog Airs Anti-Google Cartoon At Times Square
- Google Objects To Microsoft & Yahoo Wedding; Microsoft Responds — Irony All Around
- Google And Other Tech Firms Brace For More Anti-Trust Scrutiny
- Yet Another Anti-Trust Inquiry For Google (& Apple)
- Microsoft To Change Desktop Search In Vista Over Google Antitrust Claim
- Google Wants DOJ To Continue Microsoft Antitrust Restrictions
- Google Asks For Formal Role In Microsoft Anti-Trust Dispute
- Google Joins EU Anti-Trust Case Against Microsoft Browser
- Is Redmond The Puppet Master In Google EU Anti-Trust Complaints?
- Admitting Role In Google Anti-Trust Complaints Microsoft Complains Of Google “Lock In”
- Turnabout Is Fair Play: Google Sues The Feds For Not Considering Its Office Alternative
- Google’s Anti-Trust Problem Appears Very Real
- Google’s Anti-Trust Argument: We’re Part Of The Advertising Galaxy, Not The Search Solar System
- Google: We’re Not Really That Big But If We Are, We Aren’t Bad
- Google Explains How Their Search, Ads & Apps Work
- Google On Break Up: Cut Us In Half, They’d Demand Quarters
- Mr. Cutts Goes To Washington, Testifies Google Has Integrity
- The Matt Cutts Debunking Flowchart
From The “Search Neutrality” Department
- Deconstructing “Search Neutrality”
- The Incredible Stupidity Of Investigating Google For Acting Like A Search Engine
- The New York Times Algorithm & Why It Needs Government Regulation
- Once Again: Should Google Be Allowed To Send Itself Traffic?
- Study: Google “Favors” Itself Only 19% Of The Time
From The “If You Really Want To Talk Antitrust” Department:
- Fights In The Google Monopoly Debate Miss Key Points
- Google: Master Of Closing The Loop?
- Deconstructing Google: After The Google Antitrust Breakup