The Federal Trade Commission is preparing to launch the most comprehensive antitrust investigation of Google’s business practices yet, according to a new report.
The investigation will begin with a series of civil subpoenas that will be sent in the next few days, according to The Wall Street Journal. The FTC’s probe will include official requests of information from Google. Requests to other companies about their relationship with the search giant will likely come during the course of the investigation.
This isn’t Google’s first rodeo with the FTC; many of its acquisitions have been reviewed thoroughly, and the FTC nearly challenged Google’s acquisition of AdMob last year. It recently settled a case with the FTC over Google Buzz privacy issues. The European Union opened a similar antitrust investigation against Google late last year.
This investigation promises to be more comprehensive than any other U.S. investigation to date. At the center of the antitrust investigation will surely be claims that Google manipulates search engine results pages (SERPs) to its advantage. Google products such as Places are often placed prominently on SERPs, which some argue draws clicks away from companies such as Yelp, Expedia and Microsoft. The latter actually filed an antitrust complaint with the EU against Google earlier this year.
It’s inevitable that people will compare this investigation to the famous Microsoft antitrust investigation of the late 1990s. That case, United States vs. Microsoft, ended with a settlement that stopped Microsoft from using Windows to push its other products and lock out its competitors. Microsoft’s growth came to a halt after the case, and the company has never fully recovered.
The FTC seems serious about pushing forward with a case against Google. The WSJ reports that the FTC fought the Justice Department for the right to handle this case. That can only signal that the FTC doesn’t intend to walk away empty-handed.