The FTC may push forward with an antitrust case against Google based on complaints that it tampers with search results to lower competitor rankings.
Reuters reports that four members of the Federal Trade Commission are convinced that Google, the current #1 search engine company, used its market dominance to purposely hurt competitors. The four FTC commissioners came to this conclusion after conducting an investigation into Google's practices for more than a year.
The report arrives by way of three people familiar with the matter who declined to be named to protect their working relationships. Two of the sources told Reuters that a decision on how to proceed against Google could arrive sometime in late November or early December. They also said that a fifth commissioner remains skeptical.
The FTC's investigation ignited from a growing list of rivals specializing in travel, shopping and entertainment – including Yelp and Nextag – that have accused Google of unfairly giving their services a low quality ranking in search results. They claim that because of this forced ranking, Google's own similar services are seen first by potential customers. In order to get noticed, rivals are forced to purchase more ads to improve their visibility.
But last year during a congressional hearing, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt told the Senate Judiciary Committee's antitrust panel that Google does not manipulate its search results. "We've not cooked anything," he said. And just recently, Google spokeswoman Niki Fenwick said that the company is open to any questions about how Google conducts its business.
So if Google is so "transparent," then why does the FTC believe there may be a case? One source told Reuters that other complaints that have piled up against Google "give weight" to the antitrust issue. These additional complaints include accusations that the search engine giant refuses to share data that would allow developers and advertisers to create software for comparing ad spending on Bing or Yahoo against ad spending on Google.
In addition to the current investigation, the FTC is also looking into Google's handling of valuable patents. The government agency is trying to determine if these patents are licensed fairly, and if patent infringement lawsuits filed by Google are actually used to hamper competitor innovation. A decision is expected to be made by the end of the year, and could mean that Google will be forced to spend millions fighting in court, or to strike a deal with the FTC.