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May 24, 2013

FTC Opens New Investigation into Google’s Advertising Practices: Report

Probe Launched After Complaints Received from Rival Companies

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has launched a new antitrust investigation into Google’s alleged abuse of its online advertising dominance after receiving complaints from rival companies.

Sources told Bloomberg that FTC investigators are trying to determine if Google is using its role in the 17.7-billion online display ad industry to compel companies to use more of its advertising services.

The sources said, however, that the preliminary probe may not be expanded into a full-scale investigation.

It seems Canada’s Competition Bureau is also set to probe Google’s business practices.

According to The Financial Times, the government agency has informed Google of its intention to launch a formal inquiry, but has yet to ask for specific information or documents from Google Canada.

Google is no stranger to having its policies and practices placed under the microscope by government agencies.

After a nearly two-year anti-trust investigation, the FTC unanimously ruled Jan. 3 there was not enough evidence to support rivals’ allegations that Google gives its own services preferred billing in search results.

“Undoubtedly, Google took aggressive actions to gain advantage over rival search providers. However, the FTC’s mission is to protect competition, and not individual competitors. The evidence did not demonstrate that Google’s actions in this area stifled competition in violation of U.S. law,” the FTC’s attorney, Beth Wilkinson, said at the time.

The FTC did, however, convince Google to change some of its business practices such as promising to license under more reasonable terms the hundreds of the patents it acquired with the purchase of Motorola. This means rivals will have access to patents on critical standardized technologies needed to make popular devices such as Smartphones, laptops, tablets and gaming consoles.

The FTC also forced the search engine giant to fork over $22.5-million in fines last August to settle accusations it broke a privacy policy by “improperly tracking Apple Safari users.” The penalty remains the biggest fine the agency has imposed against a corporation for breaching a previous agreement with the agency.

Google is also still attempting to settle an anti-trust investigation in Europe.

Google agreed last month to change its search practices in Europe, but its chief rivals, including Microsoft, must first weigh the technology titan’s concessions before they can be approved — or rejected —by the European Commission.

The commission, the executive arm of the European Union, began probing Google’s methods after receiving a number of complaints from companies, including Microsoft, that say the technology firm uses its monopoly of the market to give its own products and services prominence over that of its competitors.

The Commission said late last month that “interested parties” have one month to submit comments on Google’s proposed changes.