The Wall Street Journal
by THOMAS CATAN And AMIR EFRATI
Aug 11, 2011
U.S. antitrust regulators are focusing their investigation of Google Inc. on key areas of its business, including its Android mobile-phone software and Web-search related services, people familiar with the probe say.
Six weeks after serving Google with broad subpoenas, Federal Trade Commission lawyers, in conjunction with several state attorneys general, have been asking whether Google prevents smartphone manufacturers that use its Android operating system from using competitors' services, these people said.
They also have inquired whether Google grants preferential placement on its website to its own products, such as Google's "Places" business listings, its "Shopping results" and Google Finance services above most other results.
And they're looking into allegations that Google unfairly takes information collected by rivals, such as reviews of local businesses, to use on its own specialized site and then demotes the rivals' services in its search results, the people said.
When the FTC probe first became official in June, Google said it wasn't clear what the agency was concerned about. But the early focus of the investigation suggests a potential threat to Google's plans to expand its commercial success beyond its current cash cow: the Web-search engine.
The European Commission, which has imposed restrictions on Microsoft Corp.'s ability to leverage its dominant computer-operating system to promote other services, has been carrying out its own broad antitrust probe of Google since last year.
Google denies that it engages in unfair or illegal competitive practices. The company has suggested the growing number of antitrust investigations have been spurred by rivals unsettled by its aggressive push into new business sectors.
"We understand that with success comes scrutiny," said a Google spokeswoman. "We're happy to answer any questions they have about our business."
An FTC spokeswoman declined to comment.
The FTC's probe is still at an early stage, with investigators seeking to learn the inner workings of a complex business. An investigation of this kind can last a year or longer and won't necessarily result in the FTC's filing a lawsuit.
Even so, the existence of the probe already appears to be affecting the Web giant's behavior. The company has made tweaks to its search engine to mollify rivals and head off a possible legal clash with antitrust authorities.
For example, FTC lawyers have asked several Web companies about Google's practice of including customer reviews from websites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor on Google's own "Places" service, which has millions of pages for individual local businesses, these people said. Google Places competes with Yelp and other business-review sites, which have alleged Google stole their content.
In meetings with some complaining websites, Google executives have held firm that the practice wasn't anticompetitive, according to representatives of those sites.
Late last month, Google said it had removed snippets of reviews that originated on other sites from Google Places.
As part of its probe, the FTC is preparing to send out civil subpoenas to third parties to provide documents and evidence in its investigation, said people familiar with the matter. Investigators have already held a series of exploratory meetings and interviews with Google, its competitors and other third parties, giving a flavor of the kinds of areas they're concerned about.
Investigators have been asking technology companies whether Google is restricting the use of rivals' services on mobile devices using its widely used operating system, Android, the people said.
One alleged example has come to light in a private lawsuit, filed against Google by Skyhook Wireless Inc. The Boston-based company accused Google of using its market power to pressure smartphone makers into dropping Skyhook's location-sensing technology in favor of Google's own, competing service. Google has called it a "baseless complaint."
FTC lawyers have also asked about the growing influence of Android and how it may be helping Google maintain its lead in Web search. Google's search engine is the default for many phones built using Android.
Research firm Canalys said this month that Android powered nearly half of new smartphones shipped worldwide in the second quarter of this year— ahead of both Apple Inc. and Nokia Corp.
Learn more about Search Engine Optimization, the most effective form of online advertising.
Search Engine Marketing is the fastest growing advertising medium in the world, projected to become 10x more powerful and influential than traditional media outlets such as: network television, cable television, local television, network radio, local radio, satellite radio, national newspapers, local newspapers, magazines, billboards, direct mail, telemarketing and more.
Discover the most powerful and effective form of advertising, Search Engine Optimization.
An aside for consideration are the segments of Search Engine Optimization. Clarification is required in terms of paid search marketing, sponsored search advertising, pay per click, email marketing (spam), and the foundation of strategic internet marketing: Organic Search Engine Optimization - Organic SEO in some circles also referred to as Natural Search Engine Optimization - Natural SEO.
Key Organic Search Engine Optimization Facts:
- Keyword search is the 2nd most popular online activity, rapidly approaching the popularity of email retrieval.
- 90% of all new website visitors are delivered by a major search engine and/or directory.
- 98% of all keyword search activity results are powered by the big 4 search engines: Google, Yahoo, MSN and AOL.
- Keyword search results on Google, Yahoo, MSN and AOL are all determined by a search engine spider and/or robot crawler.
- Recent internet marketing studies confirm that keyword searchers prefer the organic results at a 6 to 1 ratio vs. pay-per-click sponsored search advertising listings.
Is your corporate website being found early and often on the keywords and keyword phrases that best describe your products, services and industry?
Harness the power that our proven organic search engine optimization technologies can provide...
Contact the Peak Positions Organic SEO consulting specialists today.
Learn more about our client roster, one of the strongest in the SEO industry, and more importantly discover why our client-focused Organic Search Engine Optimization company maintains the highest client retention rate in the SEO industry.
"Our year over year order anniversary flowers revenues are climbing rapidly in a timid economy. If you are looking for an excellent SEO Company, we suggest Peak Positions" ...
SEO Case Study