US Senators Call For FTC Investigation Into Google’s Search Results

Google & FTCUS Senators Herb Kohl and Mike Lee are urging the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether Google unfairly favors its own properties in search results.

Kohl and Lee are both members of the Senate’s antitrust subcommittee — that’s where Google’s Eric Schmidt testified in-person back in September on the same subject — and have jointly signed a five-page letter to FTC Chairman Jonathan Leibowitz calling for “serious scrutiny” of Google’s business practices and, more specifically, if Google’s is acting anti-competitively when its own properties are positioned highly in search results.

In their letter, the Senators says they “take no position” on Google’s practices, but they do cite some of the arguments that were brought up by Google’s critics in the September hearing:

Given Google’s dominant market share in Internet search, any such bias or preferencing would raise serious questions as to whether Google is seeking to leverage its search dominance into adjacent markets, in a manner potentially contrary to antirust law.

In November, Schmidt answered many of the charges brought up during the hearing in lengthy written replies to different committee members. His response to the claim that Google favors its own products in search results was to make the specious argument that Google doesn’t have separate products outside of its search service — never mind that Google actually hosts a page titled Products – Everything Google listing all of its products, including web search.


The FTC is already investigating Google, so today’s letter doesn’t change that matter, but might give the agency potentially some political cover or direction for changes.

If you’re interested, here’s the Kohl/Lee letter in PDF form. Also see our detailed analysis piece, Dear Congress: It’s Not OK Not To Know How Search Engines Work, Either.


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


About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • O.C.

    Don’t these senators have anything better to do other than open FTC investigations into companies that are helping the economy and innovating/developing the technologies of tomorrow? They are a disgrace and a joke. Does it really take an FTC investigation to determine if Google is pushing their own sites to the top of search results???

  • Andrea K

    OC – It’s not OK to (allegedly) break the law under the umbrella that it was in the name of job creation. I mean, that’s do away with child labor laws, right? Anti trust is anti-trust is anti-trust; if it’s not OK for one biz, it’s not OK for another.

  • Winooski

    This American citizen welcomes increased Federal scrutiny of Google’s business as pertains their search line of business. My beef, like so many other site publishers, is its withholding of logged-in user search keywords in the name of user privacy when it doesn’t do the same for logged-in users who click through AdWords ads.

    Yes, it’s Google’s service, and it has the right to do with it what it wants re communicating search queries to publishers. However, when Google has such dominant –monopolistic?– market share, and it claims to be withholding those keywords in the name of “protecting the personalized search results we deliver” ( ), then the government has an interest in ensuring that Google isn’t just intentionally making organic search traffic prospecting so unnecessarily hard that web publishers have no choice but to use AdWords. That’s exactly the kind of greedy leveraging of market power you’d expect to see from a monopoly, and that’s exactly the kind of business practice that merits FTC investigation.

  • davidthink

    @Andrea & Winooski – I agree that FTC should investigate anti-trust matters and practices encouraging monopolies, but Google was already being investigated by the FTC. I do agree with O.C. that is was a waste of their time since this was something that was currently in process anyway.

    Also, the other problem I have with the senators targeting Google is that If you type any letter into Yahoo search, you will get a Yahoo property for all but 2 letters. I feel that equality is important, so if this anti trust issue is so important to them, why don’t they recommend Yahoo or Bing to be investigated? I feel that there is something underlying that has these senators trying to push this attention at Google. Maybe SOPA related? Or the stance Google has taken on SOPA?

    I have no problem with Google being investigated, in fact I support it. What I have a problem with is the senators’ involvement and the hint of hidden political motives that I sense.

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