Google’s perhaps inevitable encounter with a formal anti-trust inquiry in the US took a step closer yesterday. Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl, a vocal Google critic and the head of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, indicated that Google would be the subject of scrutiny by his committee in the 112th Congress.
Formally announcing the committee’s “anti-trust agenda,” here’s what Senator Kohl’s office said about Google and search:
Access to the wealth of information and e-commerce on the Internet is essential for consumers and business alike. As the Internet continues to grow in importance to the national economy, businesses and consumers, the Subcommittee will strive to ensure that this sector remains competitive, that Internet search is fair to its users and customers, advertisers have sufficient choices, and that consumers’ privacy is guarded. 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. We also will continue to closely examine the impact of further acquisitions in this sector.
Several of Google’s recent acquisitions have been the subject of close examination and near opposition by the US Justice Department (DOJ) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
The FTC was prepared to block the AdMob acquisition until Apple bought Quattro Wireless, making the case much harder for the government. And the DOJ is currently negotiating with Google over its proposed purchase of travel software provider ITA. Press reports indicate that the government is poised to go to court and Google is seeking to avoid that with various concessions.
In Europe Google is in the midst of a formal anti-trust inquiry. That’s on top of all the various privacy cases being pursued by individual countries and private litigants.
Legal headaches and government investigations would now appear to be a permanent element of doing business for Google for at least the foreseeable future — on both sides of the Atlantic.
Postscript: Utah Senator Mike Lee sent a letter to Senator Kohl calling for hearings to explore whether Google has violated US antitrust rules. Kohl is a Democrat and Lee a Republican. Given that “both sides of the isle” are now in favor of a closer look at Google it appears there will be some sort of hearing or hearings plural.