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FTC To Recommend Antitrust Case Against Google 195

Posted by Soulskill
from the sorry-about-your-luck dept.
NeutronCowboy writes with news that a majority of top staff members from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission have become convinced that Google "illegally used its dominance of the search market to hurt its rivals." The FTC is now drafting a memo that recommends the U.S. government begin an antitrust case against Google. "The agency’s central focus is whether Google manipulates search results to favor its own products, and makes it harder for competitors and their products to appear prominently on a results page. ... The memo is still being edited and changes could be made, but these are mostly fine-tuning and will not alter the broad conclusions reached after an inquiry that began more than a year ago, said these people, who spoke on the condition that they not be identified. ... The FTC staff memo does not mean that the government will sue Google for antitrust violations. Next, the vote of three of the five FTC commissioners would be required. And each step is a further prod for Google to make concessions to reach a settlement before going to court. Last month, Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the FTC, said a final decision on whether to sue Google would be made before the end of this year.
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FTC To Recommend Antitrust Case Against Google

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  • What? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    If you were in the business of advertising...

    Wouldnt it be 100% your control AND your business to do exactly this? determine which ads to put where and why to get the best result?

    Google is being investigated for doing their job... lol

    • by aliquis (678370)

      Rather seems like if (from the summary, I don't read articles ..) say I search for smartphones Google may give me an Android hit rather than an iPhone hit first?

      As in since most people use their search engine they can also make it so people choose their products because they get a better place.

      (I search for mail and gmail shows up and so on.)

      I can kinda get that point. But if they put their own hits in "recommended" (maybe not), sponsored or Google products bubbles separate from the other hits I think that

      • Using your example, I searched for mail. The top 3 results (in order) were: 1 mail.com, 2 Yahoo! Mail, 3 GMail. Maps bring Google up first, but that's logical because they've spent so much money on their maps service. XMPP, brings up Wikipedia first, while Talk brings up talk.google.com first. None of them show up in recommended, but at the same time, in the last case there are no competitors (that I'm aware of) so that isn't exactly anti-competitive. In the second case, that might be anti-competitive but
        • Re:What? (Score:4, Informative)

          by nschubach (922175) on Saturday October 13, 2012 @11:32AM (#41641673) Journal

          Hell, I searched for Smartphone and I got a wiki article on smartphones, CNET review of smartphones, and an AT&T site that lists iPhone first. On the side bar "Shop by Brand", in this order, Blackberry, Samsung, Apple, HTC, Nokia. If they were "stuffing the ballot", wouldn't Nexus be at least front page?

        • by b4dc0d3r (1268512)

          On the other hand, I spent 45 minutes tonight trying to search for what the dial does on an HDTV antenna. Fine tuning knob they say. It allows you to fine-tune something so your something comes in better. Every hit was either a review or some shopping site.

          I even removed some by adding "-purchase -buy -store" and the top 5 never changed. I don't want to buy it, I want to know what the fuck it does.

          In the AltaVista days, I could find what I wanted in the first page. Northern lights, I could find it in t

    • by bhagwad (1426855)

      Shouldn't a complaint from at least one customer be a basis for an anti trust suit given that this is meant to prevent harm to consumers? I'm getting the feeling here that the only people doing the complaining are the competitors.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by the_B0fh (208483)

      you can decide what is the best search result (for example, you search for phone upgrade from an android and it sends to to an android comparison site, and if you search from an iphone it sends you to apple), but you cannot manipulate the results so that the best result is what helps your *OTHER* businesses, such as a search for a review on a local restaurant goes to your places site instead of other more popular sources.

      This will be interesting. Microsoft was crucified for giving away a browser for free,

      • by bhagwad (1426855)

        There was nothing wrong with Microsoft giving away IE free per se. The problem what that it unfairly gave IE advantages that other browsers couldn't take advantage of. From the Wikipedia page:

        "It was further alleged that this restricted the market for competing web browsers (such as Netscape Navigator or Opera) that were slow to download over a modem or had to be purchased at a store. Underlying these disputes were questions over whether Microsoft altered or manipulated its application programming interface

        • by the_B0fh (208483)

          wasn't that what I said? Giving away IE to kill Netscape.

          Was the intent of giving away Android to kill other phones, in order to maintain and extend its search monopoly on mobiles?

          • Not quite. Microsoft used its existing Windows monopoly to create a browser monopoly and in that they convicted themselves. How is Google using its search monopoly to create a mobile monopoly? How does Google Search push Android and exclude competitors? Showing competitors lower down the page isn't the same as not showing competitors.

            • by Elldallan (901501)
              Something as heavy handed as"not showing competitors" isn't required to be open to an antitrust case, whats required is a lot less severe behavior.
              The only thing that is required is that you use your dominant market position to gain benefits in a different market, so that means unless Google treats everybody else exactly the same as it treats it's own products or it treats it's own products worse then Google is using it's dominant market share in search to gain an advantage in whatever else and are thus in
        • Except, back then (2001) Opera (v5) was only a 2.2MB download ... on the other hand Mozilla was what 20-25MB and took 2-5 hours to download on dialup.

          Of course now-adays, Firefox and Chrome have reamed their user-interface, IE has too to some extent ... Opera while still as customizable as ever has gotten more and more unstable version after version - starting around v9.
        • by bondsbw (888959)

          This sounds like how Apple restricted other browser apps from using the Nitro Javascript engine.

          For that matter, Apple has removed certain apps from their App Store just because they compete with built-in apps. How are they not on the hook for monopolistic behavior?

          (This coming from a guy who overall likes Apple and owns several of their products. But I like competition more than I like Apple.)

          • by Americano (920576)

            Apple does not have a monopoly that it is leveraging in one market to give itself an advantage in another.

            It has no monopoly on mobile phones, or mobile phone applications, or mobile phone operating systems. It runs the App Store, and is free - until and unless it becomes a monopoly in the mobile space and runs afoul of antitrust regulations - to set its own terms & conditions on what products it will and will not sell in its app store.

            Is it crappy that they do this? Yes, it'd be nice if they would op

      • by nedlohs (1335013)

        One was a monopoly and one was not?

    • by ganjadude (952775)
      Pretty much. I mean when I go to buy groceries, The store brands are always out front and forward. We need to break up shop rite!
  • Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dreamchaser (49529) on Saturday October 13, 2012 @09:32AM (#41640945) Homepage Journal

    Nobody forces anyone to use Google to search. They don't sell search. I fail to see a case, but IANAL.

    • Re:Really? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by JobyOne (1578377) on Saturday October 13, 2012 @09:42AM (#41641013) Homepage Journal

      I'm inclined to agree with you.

      I'm as entrenched as anyone could possibly be in the Google ecosystem, and it's not because they're force-feeding me their products. I frequently try alternatives when comes to stuff like online calendars, documents, email, whatever.

      The reason my attempts to use other services never stick is simple: they're just not as good as Google's offerings.

      I can kind of see where they're coming from if Google is in fact promoting their own services in their search, but I suspect that their own algorithms are picking out their own services because the most people use and talk about them...again because they're just the best offering.

      Personally it's tough to sell me on the idea of a provider of free web services getting into antitrust territory, because a different search engine is always one different URL away. The same goes for all their other services. It's tough to even call them out on vendor lock-in, because thanks to the data liberation front they're one of the best companies I've ever seen on the internet when it comes to avoiding lock-in.

      I'm dubious.

      • Re:Really? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Saturday October 13, 2012 @11:02AM (#41641467)

        To me, it looks like the lobbying by various competitors (hi, Microsoft, Expedia!) has finally paid off. There is no stickyness to Google services, outside of their quality. Switching is a click away, especially when it comes to search and maps. The complaints I've read? Nothing but sour grapes that Google didn't completely shaft their UI and search algorithm, just so that every competitor has the same or better page position (note that I didn't say search position) as any Google service listed on any of Google's pages.

        If this goes through, it's the end of search algorithms: if someone is upset they aren't high-placed on the dominant search engine du jour (and there will ALWAYS be one), they can just sue for extra income.

        Let me rephrase that: it will be the end of search engines in the US. China, I'm sure, will be happy to supply quality search engines that give a big middle finger to shenanigans like these.

      • by Mashdar (876825)
        I am inclined to agree that search results displaying their e-mail service, etc, are probably influenced by how much people discuss them.
        I wonder, though, if this case might be about services embedded in the search? Unit conversions, translations, and stock quotes are all automatically displayed upon a search. While (IMO) finding this anti-competative would be bad for consumers, I understand that it might prevent users from trying competing products.
      • by wmbetts (1306001)

        I'm leery of Googles intentions when it comes to my personal data, but I continue to use their services for the reasons you state. They're simply the best I can find. If there was something at least as good I'd move over to them and use a different provider for each of the different services I use from Google.

        I was around (like many people on /.) back when Microsoft was force feeding us IE. I chose to use other browsers, but they made it a real pain in the ass. Even web sites would intentionally break when

    • Re:Really? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by boaworm (180781) <boaworm@gmail.com> on Saturday October 13, 2012 @09:43AM (#41641017) Homepage Journal

      No but they sell ads. And people want to put their ads where people will see them. So it isn't much of a stretch to claim that they sell search.

      They also sell sponsored results in their search results.

      • But they do not force anyone to use their search. I can use whatever search engine I want ever from my Asus Transformer Prime.

      • Re:Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by squiggleslash (241428) on Saturday October 13, 2012 @10:07AM (#41641169) Homepage Journal

        OK, but at least in theory the site that attracts the most visitors (that you want to advertise on) is also the one that's the easiest to compete with.

        Search itself isn't hard. That is to say someone with a VPS can probably build and run an Altavista clone and make a profit from ads if they want to. Not enough to give up the day job, but enough to cover the running costs.

        Good search of course is harder, but Google's search has gone through phases where it's very good, followed by very awful, followed by OK, followed by (... etc, you get the idea), enough times.

        Why does Google have a "monopoly" on search, and does it have a monopoly on search? The nearest I can think of, to be honest, is that they own the word "Google". People go to Google because it's good enough and they know it's good enough, and don't know enough about Bing or Yahoo search to feel that'd be less of a waste of their time. So Google has immense market share, but it's hard to believe it has market power - if it was signficantly worse than its rivals, people would get frustrated and switch, they would lose their trust in "Google" pretty quickly and have no reason to stay.

        And I know that because I've done the same thing. I've switched from Google when it's been awful - when it's gone over the top in ignoring words in my search criteria and bringing up useless results, or when clicking in the wrong place causes my browser to hang for five seconds because Google's JS has decided to load an entirely unnecessary preview of a search result's color scheme (WTF? I'm glad they fixed that.) I've generally switched back because its competitors are for the most part lousy clones of Google that aren't better.

        This is not like Windows, where people went to Windows because Microsoft was able to control the DOS market from 1981 onwards, and used its power as the controller of the "standard platform" to make it expensive for OEMs to bundle competitor's products. (This is not to say early Windows wasn't an improvement on, say, GEM, but the reason why we have Windows on home computers in 2012 is not because Windows 1.x or 2.x was a more sophisticated, powerful, system in 1987 than GEM or DesqView.)

        Disclaimer: I don't actually have a disclaimer. Last month I sold my sole share in GOOG because my new kid means I need the cash right now. ;-) Boy did I pick the right time, I can't imagine this announcement is going to help the stock price...

      • by mysidia (191772)

        No but they sell ads. And people want to put their ads where people will see them.

        Right, and the people who want to buy ads have to agree to Google's terms.

        And it's ultimately Google's discretion as to what ads get placed, and what gets placed in their search engine.

        Noone can force Google to display a certain message, or take out a certain message, because it would be a violation of Google's freedom of speech right.

      • by Nyder (754090)

        No but they sell ads. And people want to put their ads where people will see them. So it isn't much of a stretch to claim that they sell search.

        They also sell sponsored results in their search results.

        They sell ads. They do not sell search. Sponsored results yes, but no matter how you stretch it, they do NOT sell search.

        So stretch your anus as far as you like, it's still an anus, might be the goat.se anus, but it's an anus, not a vagina or a back hole.

        • Erm, don't they sell search results? I mean isn't that what adwords are? You pay, and your result appears up on top of the result where it normally would not have been if you didn't pay?

    • by openfrog (897716)

      Indeed, really?

      Please begin with enforcing the anti-trust case brought against Microsoft, which in this case was justified, proven and concluded, and then we might perhaps consider those new claims by the FTC against Microsoft's rival, which Ballmer promised to destroy. Doing otherwise might likely bring shame and discredit to the FTC itself, and the current Democrats administration.

      • by openfrog (897716)

        Oh, and furthermore, what an interesting timing, just when Google in under concerted attack by Apple and others, in view of destroying Android!

        I really do hope some Democrats will wake up and tell someone responsible in this administration that they should check what kind of crap some civil servants are moving.

    • by Daerath (625570)
      That isn't the point. Nobody forces you to use Google, but Google has a majority of the market share and as a consequence, they will be held to a different standard. If Google is altering search results to the benefit of their products and the detriment of their competitors products then there isn't much to discuss. It will simply be a matter of determining how much financial damage that has caused their competitors and how much Google has profited from that behavior. It isn't a question of, "Are they g
      • Why? As far as I can tell, even the legal definition of monopoly requires "exclusive control of a market," not "being a clear leader."

        Lying about the PageRank of a page, while slimy, is not illegal.

    • I totally agree with you although I don't think you need to sell something to change the "moral" here.

      For instance, if Google advertising their own products on their own services makes for an anti-trust case, then perhaps TV channels should also be forced to advertise the competion's schedule? No one forces you to use/watch either services and some channels are paid, so I fail to see the distinction here.

    • Not only that, where is the obligation of google to not offer services other than search when they generate results for free? Unless these whiners like Yelp can show that google is purposely altering their search algo to downrank them they should just learn how to compete betere. Ironically I did a serach for oil change places in my area and the first listing was a review on yelp.

      There are no barriers to entry for search either. Certainly google itself dethroned yahoo, excite, altavista, etc.

    • Nobody forces anyone to use Google to search.

      That's not *quite* true. You don't feel like you're being forced because the decision isn't yours to see.

      Google is an advertising company, and acts like an advertising company. That means, you the end-user are being horse traded at a higher level, among the companies that supply your service.

      For example, if you're an average Firefox user, you're using Google. Why? Because Google pays Mozilla to force (statistically) the users to use Google's search engine

      • by ganjadude (952775)
        hell I got a blackberry loaner while my droid is in the shop and it uses bing as its default search, I know BBs are losing share but if i want to use google i have to open the browser and switch to google rather than just type it. So in the smart phone market, BBs dont default google, windows phone 8 wont default google, apple no longer defaults google, that leaves droid defaulting google

        as I see it, google has no advantage
  • REALLY!?!? (Score:1, Funny)

    by trparky (846769)
    Wrong company jackasses! You should be going after Apple!!!!
    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      Why? Apple has less than 20% of the PC market, less than 50% of the smartphone market. The iPhone is no more closed than the Wii, PS/3, or XBox 360. Frankly they should be going after Comcast, Time Warner, and Microsoft.

  • by gelfling (6534) on Saturday October 13, 2012 @09:34AM (#41640959) Homepage Journal

    You get the government you pay for.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The agencyâ(TM)s central focus is whether Google manipulates search results to favor its own products, and makes it harder for competitors and their products to appear prominently on a results page.

    If I go to Google and search for "web browser" the results are:

    1. Wikipedia
    2. Opera
    3. Opera again
    4. Mozilla
    5. News for web browser
    6. Chrome
    7. Safari
    8. Webopedia (of all things)
    9. Maxthon
    10. Flock
    11. docs.python.org

    Those bastards!

    • by hjf (703092)

      Sure, AC. Disable adblock and try again.

    • My list:
      Web browser - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
      Mozilla Firefox Web Browser — Free Download — mozilla.org
      Opera browser | Faster & safer internet | Free download
      Chrome Browser
      Apple - Safari - Browse the web in smarter, more powerful ways.

      Then it goes into random stuff. Mine seems pretty good, actually. IE doesn't show up at all as of page 5, though Mosaic did on page 3.

    • My top four are Wikipedia, Firefox, Opera, Chrome. I use Firefox.
    • by Curate (783077)
      Interesting that Internet Explorer is nowhere in those search results. What does that say?
  • It is easy enought to get on the first page. Simply develop a decent page, keep it simple, and you win. Disgusting that FTC is being bought by other businesses which is likely MS.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Create a page that competes directly with a google service and try again.

    • by nurb432 (527695)

      . Disgusting that FTC is being bought by other businesses which is likely MS.

      That is how the federal government works now: He with the cash, makes the rules.

  • This is a strong claim, I wonder if there's any proof to back it up. I've never noticed a bias towards Google's services in search, the only time I remember is when they displayed a warning on Youtube saying that it only works in Chrome. That was somewhat distasteful but has been removed since, and in fact I used Google to find another email service without much problem. Can someone show search terms that have a bias?

  • So blame Google for it...

  • They need the FTC to protect them from the big mean Google.
  • I thought the legal responsibility of any public corporation was to do any thing ethical and legal to earn money for shareholders. What do the regulators expect them to do ?
    • by mysidia (191772)

      I thought the legal responsibility of any public corporation was to do any thing ethical and legal to earn money for shareholders.

      Since when was there an "Ethical" qualifier?

      The legal responsibility of the board and officers of a public corporation is to do any legal thing to execute their charter. Unless they are a non-profit, it typically says something about achieving maximum possible return for the shareholders, by any legal means.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Is it just me that suspects that this will turn out as a giant waste of tax payer money?

    If I go TO GOOGLE's SEARCH ENGINE to find a service, I don't generally go there expecting that a search for "webmail" is going to find my corporate OWA page...

    If someone want's to find Yahoo's offerings, they would search for "yahoo mail"

    and if you weren't sure (or didn't care) you'd likely be one of the stupidly large percentage of people that just use the built-in-bing search in IE to "search" for email.
    (which to my su

  • by walterbyrd (182728) on Saturday October 13, 2012 @11:28AM (#41641629)

    Are they kidding? How about looking into Microsoft and Nokia and Apple and MOSAID and fill-in-the-blank-patent-trolls and all Microsoft's little FairSearch helpers in a conspiracy to use patents to destroy Android? Who started the patent smartphone wars, after all? It wasn't Google. By the way, have you written a nice, polite letter or email to the FTC about this? Here's their general contact page; here's the antitrust page, with an email contact. Note they state that if you wish your expressions to be kept confidential, don't email. Send a regular letter marked confidential.

  • I am inclinded to think that Google has is manipulating their search results but opposite from what they are assuming in the article.

    Think about it this way: Googles algorithm bumps up the most popular results page rank. If people are using Google Search to find other Google products (very common, seeing as how Google Search is integrated in most browsers by default) then the PageRank for those products will be higher. One way around this (as mentioned above by someone else) is to use what is called "google

  • When google bought doubleclick then admobi who was left as a major player in the online ads market? Especially since Google has a massive amount of data on you from all your searches, email, documents, and other services you may use from them or others use via them (analytics anyone?).

    iAds competes, but only on iOS. Facebook has ads, but it's only on facebook. If I want to do online advertising for a widget or a branding campaign using online ads on a non-specific platform, there's pretty much google.

  • Google isn't supposed to use their web site to promote their own products?

    Well shit, my own company's website does that too. I thought that was why we had the site in the first place, to be honest. Guess I'm doing it wrong.

  • No one forces you to use Google, unlike Microsoft where every defauly installation of Internet Explorer has BING as the default search engine, and MS embedding msBing into Office applications .. Bing Bar [microsoft.com]
  • by nurb432 (527695) on Saturday October 13, 2012 @08:44PM (#41645821) Homepage Journal

    Sounds like typical status quo for this administration: punish those that succeed.

  • by rahvin112 (446269) on Sunday October 14, 2012 @01:30AM (#41647111)

    This will be the hardest case the FTC has ever attempted.

    In a normal anti-trust case you have a company that has and established product with barriers to entry to the market that typically include:

    1. Cost of replacement products (Microsoft is an example of this because the cost of replacement was significant to the cost of the computer).
    2. Difficult interoperability (Microsoft again is a good example because the software market made it difficult if not impossible for competitors).
    3. Difficult customer access (AT&T is a perfect example of this, building out a last mile telecom network is a huge undertaking, even long distance competitors couldn't access their customers without government intervention).
    4. Business collusion and exclusion that prevented competition (almost every FTC case involved this because it's a necessary aspect of enforcement of the sherman-anti trust rules, in the case of MS it was contracts and such that involved the punishing and rewarding of other companies in the business that worked with the competitor).

    The FTC might be able to prove that Google is putting their results at the front but they are going to have a hell of time given the facts. No one, not a single soul is forced to use google products. Not only that but the startup costs and difficulty in creating competitive products is nearly non-existent. There are dozens of competing products in almost every single category Google works in and the only reason they haven't been replaced is that they continue to innovate their core products. I really don't think they have case against Google in any of their core markets. Now I do think that what Google did with maps pro (don't jump to conclusions, if you don't know what I'm talking about don't reply) was a dirty evil act right ouf of Microsoft's play-book but I don't think outside that the government even has a case. Everyone could decide to use a different search engine, advertising, maps, calendar, email, phone (android open source doesn't require Google products) tomorrow and there is absolutely nothing stopping people from doing so other than the fact that Google generally offers the better product. With the exception of the maps pro incident Google has none of the barriers to entry that the government hung their hat on during other anti-trust cases.

    Personally, I don't think the government will win and I pray Google doesn't just give in.

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