US 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.