FTC should revisit Google search investigation, two AGs say

29 March 2017 12:39pm

2 February 2016. By Amy Miller.

Two attorneys general have urged the US Federal Trade Commission to consider reopening its closed investigation into Google's search practices after the European Union found that the search engine manipulates results.

"We encourage the Commission to consider new information and developments that have become available both domestically and internationally since closing its Google investigation," Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a joint letter with District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine dated Jan. 29. "Upon doing so, the Commission may determine that its investigation should be revisited."

In 2013, the FTC decided not to bring a case against Google, disappointing critics and consumer advocates. But two years later, the European Commission accused Google of abusing its dominance of the search-engine market.

The EU commission has alleged that the search giant may be violating competition rules by using its power in general search — where its market share exceeds 90 percent in Europe — to stifle competition. Although the regulator believes Google unfairly favors its own shopping services over rivals', the search engine maintains that e-commerce is still a "dynamic and competitive industry."

In its reply in August 2015, Google said EU regulators misunderstood the way consumers search for products online and presented a "peculiar" case that would force the company to show rivals' ads more prominently.

Google has agreed to stop some practices — for example, removing restrictions on its online search advertising platform and offering companies the option of keeping their content out of Google's search results.

But the EU Commission isn't the only regulator taking a close look at Google, the AGs told FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. Reyes and Racine also point to investigations by antitrust authorities in India, Canada, and Brazil.

They also mention studies by Tim Wu, the FTC's former chief technologist, and Harvard professor Michael Luca that found that Google's search bias harms consumers by providing less choice and increasing costs.

"We believe additional investigation may confirm what this research shows," they said.

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