Google's critics Thursday were cheering a report that the Federal Trade Commission is poised to issue subpoenas against the Internet search giant as part of a possible antitrust probe.
The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the FTC is expected to seek more information from Google signaling the possible launch of a formal investigation into allegations the company has used its dominance of Internet search to favor its own products and services over rivals.
Neither the FTC nor Google would confirm the report. However, a source told Tech Daily Dose that the FTC has solicited information from some third-party companies in relation to their concerns about Google's behavior. The European Commission launched an antitrust probe of Google in November based on complaints from some competitors that Google manipulates its search rankings.
Among those who praised the possible FTC probe was the Fair Search coalition, which is made up of some of the firms that opposed Google's acquisition of travel software maker ITA Software such as Expedia Microsoft and Travelocity.
"Google engages in anti-competitive behavior across many vertical categories of search that harms consumers by restricting the ability of other companies to compete to put the best products and services in front of Internet users, who should be allowed to pick winners and losers online, not Google," the group said. "Google's practices are deserving of full-scale investigations by U.S. antitrust authorities, and are already the subject of reviews by the European Commission, and the Texas Attorney General."
The American Consumer Institute and Consumer Watchdog, a frequent Google critic, also applauded a potential antitrust probe of Google. "The time for an antitrust probe is long past due, and I'm optimistic the FTC investigation will lead to necessary remedies that will ensure competition in the market," Consumer Watchdog's John Simpson said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee also has been examining concerns over Google's dominance of Internet search. The committee's antitrust panel plans to hold a hearing on the issue before the August recess and has asked Google to send CEO Larry Page or Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, who stepped down as CEO in April, to testify. So far, Google has refused, a subcommittee spokeswoman said Wednesday, but she added that the two sides are continuing to discuss the matter.
In the House, Rep. Albio Sires, D-N.J., Thursday urged the FTC to move forward with an antitrust probe. "Over time, complaints have increased regarding Google's anti-competitive behavior, in particular the use of its market power in search to push consumers to its own services. The time has come to seriously look into this issue," Sires said.
Boston University Law Professor Keith Hylton said if the FTC files a formal complaint, which it would do after studying information from Google and others, it would likely do so under Section 5 of the FTC Act, which bars "unfair methods of competition," and was the same law it used in its antitrust case against Intel, he said.