On June 23rd, Google received a notification that their company was being investigated by the U.S. Government for potentially anti-competitive practices in their search. While Google has had antitrust reviews in the past, they’ve always focused in on smaller elements of the company, and have never taken on the core of Google’s business. Google responded to the announcement of the official launch of the investigation by providing a list of values that have motivated the in-question company decisions.
While the Google release stated that, “It’s still unclear exactly what the FTC’s concerns are,” the complaints levied against Google have been fairly concrete. Companies who run travel sites, data aggregation, or other services that compete indirectly with Google are upset that the search giant is promoting their own services to more ideal locations on their search results (top page, above the fold).
One example of this include when local business searches are conducted and Google Places results are bumped to the top. This removes the opportunity for sites like UpTake or Expedia to give similar information, and Google’s Place results even pull from the data stream of reviews and other content on these competing sites. There are two ways to view this: Google is filching data and cutting off competitors without giving them a fighting chance, or Google is cutting out the middleman sites to provide users with information more quickly. Google, of course, takes that second line.
Google states their top priority is to “do what’s best for the user,” “provide the most relevant answers as quickly as possible” – including through widgets, promoted results, and other Google-run elements, “label advertisements clearly,” “be transparent,” and encourage “loyalty, not lock-in.” In most antitrust cases, a major part of the evaluation is if the results are intended for the benefit of the consumer. If Google can effectively support that case, they may garner official permission for promoting their own results.
[Sources include: the Official Google Blog]