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:

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.

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:

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:

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:

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:

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

In March, Microsoft — which has been behind-the-scenes with some of the companies in Europe that have raised allegations, stepped forward with some of its own. or more, see:

December 2010: Japan Approves Google-Yahoo Deal

Over in Japan, a deal allowing Yahoo Japan (which is only partly owned by Yahoo in the US) to do a search deal with Google was approved:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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

From The “We Really Don’t Like Google” Department:

From The “Isn’t It Ironic” Department:

From The “Google Pushes Back” Department

 

From The “Search Neutrality” Department

From The “If You Really Want To Talk Antitrust” Department:

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Google: Antitrust | Google: Critics | Google: Legal | Top News

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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