Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is conducting an investigation into Google’s business practices as they relate to search listings, in particular whether Google is manipulating its paid and editorial results in a way that violates antitrust laws.
We received a tip about the investigation this week, and Google confirmed today that an investigation started in July. The company plans to post to its blog later today about the matter.
According to Google, the Texas Attorney General’s office is seeking more information about allegations that have been levied against Google by:
Why an attorney general based out of Texas is investigating allegations made by non-Texas companies is unclear. According to Google, as long as the companies have customers in Texas, then it can be deemed relevant jurisdiction. But have any Texas consumers complained to the attorney general about these issues? Google said there’s no evidence of that.
As for the Texas AG’s office itself, it had no comment when I asked today about the investigation. Tom Kelley, with the the attorney general’s press office, emailed me:
Our long-standing policy is that we do not acknowledge investigations of any kind.
Now that Google’s acknowledged it, I expect the Texas AG will have more to say — and I’ll update if I hear more.
All the companies named above have one thing in common. They are vertical search engines that allege Google is trying to keep them down because of the potential threat they face.
My view is the arguments are generally absurd. None of these companies are large enough to pose any threat to Google, to the degree it would be compelled to take such stupid action. Moreover, if Google’s going to act to block a competitor, I’d expect it to pick bigger targets — say like Microsoft.
Speaking of Microsoft, it has given support to the Foundem complaint and the myTriggers one. The articles below have more about this:
- Admitting Role In Google Anti-Trust Complaints, Microsoft Complains Of Google “Lock In”
- Is Redmond The Puppet Master In Google EU Anti-Trust Complaints?
- Google Hit With Another Antitrust Lawsuit. Does It Have Microsoft Ties? Google v. myTriggers
These articles also give more background on the Foundem and TradeComet cases:
- Companies Ask Courts, Regulators To Restrain Google To Compensate For Own Competitive Failures
- SearchBiz Legal Edition: Varney Uses The “M Word,” More AdWords Litigation, Yahoo Lawyer Files Complaint — Against Yahoo
Accusations that Google needs to maintain some type of “search neutrality” aren’t new. Back in 2003, for example, BBC journalist Bill Thompson asked if the UK should establish an office to regulate search engines — “Ofsearch” — as he called it.
Google’s only grown more powerful since then, but despite this, has generally not operated in an anti-competitive manner, from my perspective. But its greater power has pulled further attention and worries. Recently, even the New York Times suggested it needed regulation.
My piece from July, The New York Times Algorithm & Why It Needs Government Regulation, covers this along with more dissecting of the search neutrality arguments from me. I was also recently interviewed on the topic of search neutrality for the Suprisingly Free podcast series, which you can listen to here.
Postscript: Google’s post is now up here.