back to article Google needs a very thorough frisking, say antitrust senators

The Federal Trade Commission has been urged by two concerned US lawmakers to investigate Google's search business practices more thoroughly. Senator Mike Lee and Senator Herb Kohl, who both sit on the upper house's judiciary antitrust subcommittee, wrote (PDF) to the FTC's chairman Jonathan Leibowitz on Monday. "Google is …


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  1. ratfox

    They have a point

    As much as I like Google, and as much as I think they are not unduly pushing their good products over other people's crap, they certainly are in a position that could allow them to do so.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I'm sure I'll be shot for asking this question

      ...but do the existing US Anti-Trust laws really apply to what a company chooses to display on its own website?

      What % of social networking happens on Facebook? Should Anti-Trust laws apply there too? If so, what would that mean?

      Honest question here... curious to hear what other folks think.

      1. chr0m4t1c

        In this case, they probably should apply. Google is effectively a monopoly in the search space and it doesn't indicate that it will return results biased towards Google services, so ordinary folk have no reason to believe that it is returning anything other than independent results.

        Put it this way: If you phoned 118 118 for a taxi firm and they always gave out the number of a firm they owned, would you feel like they were acting inappropriately or not?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          With respect, chr0m4t1c...

          Appropriate/inappropriate - even ethical/unethical - wasn't the question I was trying to ask. It's all well and good for us to, with the benefit of hindsight, contemplate how we think search providers should behave but that is not the measure of what is/isn't legal.

          In my reading of it, the line of reasoning against Google is that by returning certain types of information from Google directly in the results (instead of an "unbiased" list of links only) they are unlawfully tying/bundling products in with their search. Examples:

          - Searching for a stock ticker name will return a stock info "blurb"

          - Searching for certain words will return a definition "blurb"

          - Searching for a product name will return a "shopping" result "blurb"

          - Searching for a location/address will return a map "blurb"

          To quote Wikipedia: "Success on a tying claim typically requires proof of four elements: (1) two separate products or services are involved; (2) the purchase of the tying product is conditioned on the additional purchase of the tied product; (3) the seller has sufficient market power in the market for the tying product; (4) a not insubstantial amount of interstate commerce in the tied product market is affected."

          2, 3 and 4 are not really in question (in my reading at least)... but that first one, I think, is somewhat questionable. For that first argument to hold - which the rest of the claim hinges on this as well - it needs to be established that "[an unbiased list of URLs returned off of a keyword search]" is Google's "product", and that the information the user was actually looking for is fundamentally an entirely different product or service.

          To take this to its most ridiculous conclusion, for example, a Google search for "2+2" could not return "4", but only link to web pages that had that problem/result... or "define ad absurdum" could not return "Reductio ad absurdum (Latin: "reduction to the absurd") is a form of argument in which a proposition is disproven by following its implications logically to an absurd consequence." but could only link to dictionary websites.

          Personally, I don't think the law is clear cut enough to make the tying claim against Google and the end result would be bad for "[Joe Average Internet User]"... although at the same time a little voice in the back of my head is saying "hey, you are still pissy about the whole Microsoft IE/Netscape - why is this any different?" : )


          1. jake Silver badge

            @AC 20:40

            google's "product" is what it makes a profit from. That product is YOUR eyeballs viewing the advertising. In other words, google is selling your habits without compensating you beyond a few lines of text that you can easily get elsewhere (there is a word for that). To suggest otherwise is downright daft.

            Shun google. They are a slow-motion train wreck in progress.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They miss one point

    ...and one that I'm hesitant to make myself, but it is nevertheless true.

    Google search actually works.

    I normally use Yahoo but when it fails to give me the goods in the first couple of pages, I emit a resigned sigh and turn to Google.

    As for Bing ... don't go there. Dog Pile ... well, its just a .... (ahem)

    1. Clark Coffman

      I'm sorry but I'm so tired of seeing comments like your last part from people who make a statement that from my own experience is completely false. I know that's your opinion and you certainly are welcome to it but your main point was that we shouldn't lose site of the fact that Google works, apparently better then Yahoo from your own experience and better then Bing though you must lack any real experience with it since my own experience completely contradicts what you say above.

      I also used Google for many, many, years and two years ago decided to switch everything to Bing. I've always figured you really have to use something before you know whether it's any good or not and use something for some time. It's the same reason I own Windows, Linux, and Mac OS machines.

      I have a friend that visits from time to time and he often wants to show me something he discovered on Google and when we don't find the same thing using Bing he used to say go use Google it's better, only to find that using the search string he gave me to use in Bing and then Google returned almost the exact same results. Once he remembered what his original search string was when he used Google, we found the same results on Bing using that search string.

      My own experience is that they are both great search engines and both actually work.

      Spread the love for Microsoft, Apple, and Google.

      A merry and happy Yuletide to all.

    2. Gene Cash Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Not for long

      I've watched Google steadily get worse and worse. Now it's returning "matches" where maybe one of 6 keywords is actually in the result. If I don't enclose everything in quotes, it pretty much just wings it.

      Yesterday I Googled an error message and got several pages of "several million" useless hits. I used Bing (and I'm a Linux guy, so...) and got 2 pages of actual useful results.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Google search works

      because they have a near-monopoly on search.

      They have:

      * Millions of users picking out the best link out of a search results page

      * Trackers around the web in the shape of ads and +1 buttons, to follow you around the web

      * For many even their e-mail contents and documents.

      No wonder they're good at search!

      The price of this is Google must have its monopoly *at all cost*. That's why they pay billions to keep Android going and continue to pay to be the default search in Firefox.

      If they lost even 20% of their user base the quality of results would fall apart.

      Is this good? Not the way their heading. Have a look at this and tell me:

  3. Anonymous Coward

    Who wants to bet..

    Mike Lee and Senator Herb Kohl have plenty of Apple stock......

  4. David 164

    So Google has monopoly, big deal, they are not illegal after all.

    Google so far have not ask a single company to install its search engine, in fact Bing is currently installed a default on some phones.

    It sound like the senators are worried that Federal trade commisson may find nothing to take Google to court over, which would be bad for the campaign contributions from Microsoft.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not illegal, but by definition bad

      No, a monopoly is not illegal. However once a monopoly position is achieved, there is an explicit and comprehensive list of behaviours that are forbidden by law. And breach of these rules cannot be excused by "we are good for the consumer", because monopolies are by definition bad for the consumer. This is enshrined in law. So basically, plenty of actions are forbidden for companies in monopoly position. This is why all monopolies cases go on interminably trying to decide whther company X is in fact a monopoly. After that, the rest follows.

      Meanwhile, back at google, probably the best seach engine thus far invented (IMHO), we have the case that Google have, do and did previously advantage their own products to the detriment of others. This is not really open to question, only the extent to which it was done.

      The only question is whether they are restricted (or should have been restricted) from doing so by virtue of their monopoly status.

      Lawyer time.

      I expect google to get spanked.


    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Beg to differ

      You say: "Google so far have not ask a single company to install its search engine"


  5. Turtle

    How close?

    It will be interesting to see how close Google's annual legal expenses can come to their annual gross revenue.

  6. DryBones

    I suppose the important thing with Google is to make sure that content of the same sort is being treated equally. Which of course means that search engine bait sites should all drop like rocks.

    Upon entering "search engines" into Google, the first result displayed is a sponsored link to... wait for it. Bing. Then Dogpile, then non-sponsored Bing, then, then references to like 9 other search engines... So Google has those engines available to look, people just aren't looking because hey, they go with what finds it first.

    Does the FTC need to look into Siri, considering it's reportedly becoming the one stop for iPhone 4S users doing a search?

  7. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    I was on Google Groups the other day, and noticed one of the ads there was for an E-Mail service.

    The ad was for Hotmail.

  8. pwl

    is required

    Microsoft is Mike Lee's equal 9th-highest campaign contributor

    Herb Kohl isn't even standing next year, so who knows his angle.

  9. timv

    It's called PageRank, bitches.

  10. jake Silver badge

    As I've been saying for years ...

    ... google is a slow-motion train-wreck in progress. Shun them if you value your privacy. Likewise for the rest of the !GooMyFaceYouMSTwit eyeball-grabbing advetising agencies.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Regulate in favor of competition

    Any product or service that command more than a certain share of their marked needs scrutiny. Product dominance is not in the interest of consumers or the society in general. What we need are regulations which are actively pro-competition, not just seek remedies against anti-competitive practises. The most efficient remedy is to revoke certain privileges for dominant products such as the possibility of bundling such products as part of a wider package. Examples of such are; the windows OS as a general-purpose OS should be marketed and sold separate from computer hardware because it has a market share higher than 40% or so. Equally, Google should be required to provide an initial search-engine selection process in Android with no default pointing at their own services.

  12. Tony Paulazzo
    Big Brother

    Nobody has to use Google, it's not pre-installed on most hardware (Apple / MS), the Firefox Search bar has a dropdown list of 8 other search engines, Bing is the default search engine on IE, you have to actively choose to install Chrome.

    If it's a monopoly it's because the customer has chosen it.

    @Jake: Privacy is an illusion on the internet, Google are just more open about invading it.

    1. jake Silver badge

      @Tony Paulazzo

      "Privacy is an illusion on the internet"

      No, it's not. Example: Who am I, exactly?

      When we built this thing, we knew there were issues. We tried to keep the corporate world out of it ... We we naive. We failed. We apologize. And I'm 99.9% certain that I can speak for us. TINU.

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