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Senators Recommend FTC Perform Antitrust Investigation Of Google 315

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the do-no-competing dept.
SharkLaser writes "U.S. Senators have written to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission about their concerns over Google's Internet monopoly. Google executives did themselves no favors when the Senators looked at Google's business practices in September. When asked if Google has monopoly in online search, Google chairman Eric Schmidt is quoted as saying 'I would agree, Senator, that we are in that area.' Another worrying quote is from Marissa Meyer, Google's VP of location services, who said that it was 'only fair' that Google put its own sites on higher placements than competitors. The Senators are also warning that Google is only facing one real competitor (PDF), Microsoft's Bing. Almost all other metasearch engines use either Google or Bing technology to deliver search results, including DuckDuckGo which uses Bing. In Europe Google is currently under investigation of monopoly abuse and the EU has also delayed Google's purchase of Motorola Mobility."
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Senators Recommend FTC Perform Antitrust Investigation Of Google

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  • by swinferno (1212408) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @10:38AM (#38448144)
    is a monopoly on something that is free, against the law?
    • by jonnythan (79727) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @10:41AM (#38448200) Homepage

      No, but having a monopoly in one area legally precludes you from leveraging that monopoly to boost your business in other areas (mapping, advertising, email, online video, online document editing, mobile operating systems, etc etc etc).

    • No, but if they use that monopoly to gain an unfair advantage, it is. (i.e. Microsoft)

      e.g. If they tell someone who uses Google that they can only use Google, and any radio, newspaper or Bing advertisements will result in them being banned for life from Google, that would be unfair. A natural monopoly just because no-one else is as smart as you is ok.
    • Monopolies aren't against the law, though abusing a monopoly position is.

    • by TheLink (130905)

      Search is not a monopoly yet at least on desktop computers- go ask altavista, infoseek, hotbot.

      I've actually been using Bing for some searches because I'm too lazy to put double quotes around everything, or:

      Click More search tools on the left side of the search results page.
      Click Verbatim.

      Nobody is stopping you from making a better search engine and/or interface than Google.

      Start small, try it on Amazon EC2, if it's successful try to get big discounts/incentives/$$$$ from Microsoft to migrate it to Windows Azure ;).

    • by GreatBunzinni (642500) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @11:10AM (#38448606)

      It may be free for me and you, but it so happens that we aren't google's clients. In fact, we are google's product. Just like facebook, these companies rely on us to grant them "eyes" for advertisements and our personal information for them to profit as they see fit.

      As a more sinister aspect of this monopoly, if everyone relies on a single private company to access information then they also control what we can and cannot access. For example, google currently censors our search results [torrentfreak.com] in order to bury sites which google doesn't want us to access, sites such as the pirate bay, isohunt and 4shared. If we keep relying on them to access information then what today affects only harmless download sites, tomorrow may also cover sites on political parties, corruption scandals, disasters and whatever they see fit. And, of course, potential google competitors.

      So, a monopoly affects a lot more than our wallet, and google is currently placing itself as both the knowledge gatekeeper and big brother. You bet it poses a serious danger to humanity.

      • Very true. Now look a bit further, and check why Google is burying those sites. You'll find a few laws passed by government bodies who listened more to people objecting to those sites than to Google.

      • by CryptDemon (1772622) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @11:54AM (#38449256)
        It doesn't sensor search results. It censors search suggestions. The title of that article is intentionally misleading. People who still want to search for TPB or isohunt still can just fine, they just have to finish typing the whole word now. I know entering 5 more key strokes can be a daunting task, but you can still search. I think of it as a nice was for google to kiss some corporate media ass (considering they do content provision now) without actually affecting the people who still want to search for these sites.
    • "is a monopoly on something that is free, against the law?"

      It's free to you. It's not free to advertisers who are google's actual customers of its main business area.

      Your eyes on google's search pages are the commodity being sold.

      Look at broadcast TV in the decades before cable. It was free to the "users". It wasn't free to the actual customers, the advertisers. The user's (viewers) attention was what was being sold.

      (This isn't saying google is doing anything wrong, or right for that matter. Just that your

    • by SirGarlon (845873)
      Google's product is not a search engine. Google's product is advertising space on its search engine -- that is what they sell to make money. That advertising space is definitely not free.
  • by Zaphod The 42nd (1205578) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @10:46AM (#38448278)
    Really? I know Microsoft Bashing is a sport here on /. and all, but it just blows my mind that we let MS do as they will but Google needs to be checked out. Hm.

    Google has like 64% (google market share [bloomberg.com]), with competitors Bing and Yahoo (now powered by Bing), and some others.

    Microsoft has a 91% market share ( windows market share [bgr.com]) with competitors Linux (FOSS) and Mac OSX (only available on Apple hardware, Apple openly sues you for building hackintoshes).

    And yet GOOGLE is the one who needs investigating? Really?

    Oh wait, I forgot, Microsoft is all buddy-buddy with congressmen.
    • by Zaphod The 42nd (1205578) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @10:48AM (#38448304)
      And lets not forget that 91% is an all-time low. Linux has been slowly gaining market share. Windows has had a 95%+ market share for over a decade.

      Then there's the fact that the EU is suing MS for millions and millions for their practices with IE, but over here in the US, its A-OK.
      • Let us also not forgot that many GNU/Linux users are dual booting. I do not think many people use multiple search engines.
        • I use multiple search engines. I primarily use DDG but somethings, like image searching is better done on Google and it's so easy to do a google search from DDG.
          • I did not say that nobody use multiple search engines, I said that not many people do so. People who use a search engine other than Google tend to not use Google at all; on the other hand, many people who use a non-Windows OS will dual boot with Windows.
        • by Maestro4k (707634) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @12:21PM (#38449658) Journal

          Let us also not forgot that many GNU/Linux users are dual booting. I do not think many people use multiple search engines.

          That's because Google almost always finds the result they're looking for, and does it better than the competition. If Google's results start sucking people will go use another search engine that provides better results.

          It's telling that nearly every company complaining about Google excluding them from search results are the type of things that people don't want. They're, to be polite, middlemen, trying to milk you for ad views before you get to the actual destination you were really wanting. Adding another step between search -> result doesn't benefit the people searching. If Google's forced to leave them in it it'll destroy the value of their search engine almost overnight.

          But the truth of the matter is this is congress sending Google a warning message. The real message is "You're not donating enough money to our campaigns, fix that or we'll destroy your business.

    • follow the $ (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      seriously, let's just cut to the chase here:

      who's paying off which senators to do this?

      congress doesn't do ANYTHING on principle any more & this doesn't make sense on principle anyway so obviously somebody (m$?) is greasing some palms to get this on the docket. debating it on the merits (or lack thereof) is completely irrelevant & a waste of time as we all know that isn't what drives the process.

      sorry, but I'm in a particularly cynical mood today after reading Matt Tiabbi's latest article...

    • by andydread (758754)
      Microsoft had been lobbying governments to investigate Google for over a year now. They have been accusing google of being anticompetitive. They even marshaled some of their partners to complain to to governments bout google. Microsoft is behind all of this.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Google runs things like the Google transparency report:

      http://www.google.com/transparencyreport/ [google.com]

      It's government's worst nightmare, a large corporate with a major prescence that doesn't bow down to it's every whim.

      This is in stark contrast to the likes of Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook, who gladly do what government wants. How much of a share of social networking does Facebook own? how much of a share of the music player market does Apple own, whilst using that share to tie people in with DRM on movies, and

    • It's not market share that determines if you violate antitrust legislation, it's what you do with it.
      You can have a 100% market share without having done anything wrong ( if not you could never
      bring a new product to the market, since it would initially have no competition ). What is illegal
      is to use your monopoly in one area to stifle competition in another.

      I'm not saying Microsoft is innocent of doing so ( indeed they have been convicted of such practices
      in the past), just that people tend to misunderstand

  • by jmichaelg (148257) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @10:48AM (#38448312) Journal
    Be a shame to see anything happen to it..."

    .
    How you can own a monopoly in an environment where switching to a competitor who offers a better product at zero cost is beyond me but evidently some people in Washington seem to think differently.

    Odd that the issue is being raised (yet again) just as Google publicly comes out against SOPA and Protect-IP.

    The threat comes from the same politicians who are clueless enough to think they can tinker with the Internet's infrastructure without harming it.

  • My ass (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @10:48AM (#38448318)

    Illegal monopoly, my ass. Google has done nothing to protect its monopoly, certainly nothing like forcing pretty much every PC maker in the world to use Windows, giving the illusion of no choice in software, and attacking competitors with underhanded tactics to help them maintain a monopoly. Microsoft should have been tried, convicted, and broken up LONG ago but Microsoft became a friend of the government and thus got a pass.

    Just because Google does things right,getting where they are thanks to hard work and brand recognition, and that no one else has been able to duplicate their success doesn't make them an *illegal* monopoly. (Remember kids, it's not illegal to simply be a monopoly -- you have to do underhanded garbage like Microsoft has done to be an *illegal* one.) It's just because Google doesn't want to bend over and play the government's games that they're now being wrongfully accused of being one.

    What a nightmare we all live in. Sadly, things aren't going to change until our citizens converge on Washington, D.C. armed and demanding to take their government back from the greedy moneyloving fucks that are ruining things for everyone.

    AC for very obvious reasons.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by bkaul01 (619795)

      Illegal monopoly, my ass. Google has done nothing to protect its monopoly, ....

      How about dumping a smartphone OS on the market for free while ignoring other people's patents, to protect their market share of mobile searches? Or leveraging their search monopoly to try to drive people towards their other products instead of those offered by competitors? I don't know if once the legal battles are all sorted out it'll turn out that they actually did violate any laws, but it's plausible enough that the government would be remiss in its duties if it didn't bother to find out. Just because G

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by leon.gandalf (752828)
        This must be why all Verizon Android phones come with BING installed so as you have to ROOT your phone to get rid of it.
  • the search 'engine' that ranks sites according to what internet explorer users click on OTHER search engine's search results - like google.
  • Almost all consumers choose to use Google, instead of other search engines. Almost everybody has tried several other ways to search, but Google simply gives the best results the quickest, and consumers voluntarily choose to ignore the competition. What's the problem?

    Oh well, I guess this gives the politicians something to do. Whatever keeps them busy, and doesn't harm the public too much is a good activity for politicians.

    • Yep. And I think we maybe have the fatty finger of Apple on this investigation request...
    • by tnk1 (899206)

      They HAVE something to do. It's called actually balancing the budget, which they seem to be failing pretty comprehensively at. They can't even seem to pass a bill which everyone agrees needs to happen, and might even make the voting public happier with them (ie. payroll tax deduction).

  • I don't understand why they keep investigating and investigating and just won't finally leave google alone. Are they a monopoly? obviously. Do they abuse their monopoly position? That stone's been turned over more times than the average river rock, and nothing's been found. Why don't they give it a rest already?

    I can only assume at this point that the others that wish they were in google's position keep lobbying and prodding and whining for still another investigation, if nothing else than to be a thor

  • by firex726 (1188453) <firex726@NoSpam.yahoo.com> on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @10:51AM (#38448360)

    While I agree Google does appear to be a monopoly on the outside, I don't think it's been abusing it's position and there is an alternative that people can use if they do not want to use Google. After all it's not like Google is saying that they own your computer and you're just leasing it from them.

    Sadly the same cannot be said for the Cable provider. Cable Internet from one provider or my choice of Dial Up providers.

  • It's Not Illegal (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ircmaxell (1117387) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @10:56AM (#38448410) Homepage
    It's not illegal to be a monopoly. It's illegal to abuse that power. So, let's look at the main categories of anti-trust abuse that have been prosecuted in the past:

    Limiting Supply - there's no way Google is doing that...

    Predatory Pricing - They have always been free, as are the competitors. Then again, could that be classified as predatory I guess...

    Price Discrimination - The same as above

    Refusal to deal - Not that I've heard of...

    Exclusive Dealing - Not that I've heard of either

    Product Bundling - This is tricky. Sure, their products integrate. But then again you need to sign up for each one separately. There's no "Use search and automatically get this other product"...

    So, either they will need to go out and tread new territory with little legal precedent to lead the way. Not saying it should or shouldn't be done, but just that it's a relatively new area.

    Additionally, I really find the line who said that it was 'only fair' that Google put its own sites on higher placements than competitors odd. Let's show a few examples:

    Free Email [google.com] - GMail is #5 on the list for me. Yahoo, Mail.com, Hotmail and GMX.com are all above it...

    ebooks [google.com] - Google Books is #6 on the list. Ebooks.com, Amazon, Project Gutenberg, Barnes and Noble and Free-ebooks.net are all above it...

    Online Calendar [google.com] - Google Calendar is #3 on the list.

    US News [google.com] - Google News isn't even on the first page for me (not even in an ad)...

    Shopping [google.com] - Google Shopping is #2 behind Shopping.com

    Now, searches for News, Gmail, Images, Videos, Maps and other product names return google first. But that sort-of makes sense, since those are the product names...

    In fact, searching for Maps and Images on Bing returns Google for the first results! Is it an anti-trust violation to name your products intelligently???
    • by Dhalka226 (559740)

      Product Bundling - This is tricky. Sure, their products integrate. But then again you need to sign up for each one separately. There's no "Use search and automatically get this other product"..

      I guess that depends on your definitions. Simply using search, no, that doesn't come with anything else (other than links to their services and according to the Google executive quote in the summary, deliberately prominent ones). But the second you sign up for an account for any one service you're signed in to all o

      • by Andy Dodd (701)

        You're correct - Google does some light bundling with single-sign-on.

        However, they go to great efforts to allow their various individual products to be used with software outside of their "bundle".

        Look at gmail's robust POP/IMAP support.

        Look at Google Calendar's robust support for open calendar formats

        In general - look at Google's approach in general to data availability, such as Google Takeout.

    • Not only that, but Google has been pretty friendly about interoperability. Gmail has SMPT and POP/IMAP available for people who prefer to use an email client rather than Google's web interface. Gchat will exchange messages with other Jabber servers (there are a few bugs that still need to be worked out here, although this is better than what, say, Facebook has pulled). Google Docs exports files in open formats.

      Google wins because people like them -- they like their search algorithm, they like their we
    • by Doc Ruby (173196)

      Google isn't free. Google is an advertising agency that is paid by all its advertisers, for whom others compete.

      Those prices could be manipulated by Google to protect its ability to manipulate those prices, by its power of market dominance and other advantages that aren't simply competing. Likewise Google could be using other such advantages that aren't simply competing, to interfere with advertising competition.

      And besides, the free searching and other features all support that advertising, which in turn s

      • That's a very good point. I didn't disagree with the investigation in principle. I was just pointing out that the traditional metrics, and the ones indicated by the post are rather, iffy...

        If other search companies cannot compete because of Google's dominance of either or both ads and searching, that is also anti-competitive.

        I would just like to point something out here. If other companies can't compete because Google is really good at search, that's not anti-competitive (in fact, it's the exact opposite

    • by tgd (2822) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @12:00PM (#38449368)

      Limiting Supply - there's no way Google is doing that...

      Of course they do that -- they sell adwords, and they sell a limited number of them based on raising prices to the highest level they can, based on their dominance in search. Remember, the person doing the search isn't Google's customer. They're Google's *product*. The services you use at Google are there for one reason -- to increase *your* value as the product they are selling.

      Predatory Pricing - They have always been free, as are the competitors. Then again, could that be classified as predatory I guess...

      As I said above ...

      Price Discrimination - The same as above

      Exactly.

      Product Bundling - This is tricky. Sure, their products integrate. But then again you need to sign up for each one separately. There's no "Use search and automatically get this other product"...

      Try to use any of their services without Google+ anymore ...

      • Of course they do that -- they sell adwords, and they sell a limited number of them based on raising prices to the highest level they can, based on their dominance in search. Remember, the person doing the search isn't Google's customer. They're Google's *product*. The services you use at Google are there for one reason -- to increase *your* value as the product they are selling.

        I'm not sure I understand your reasoning here. They're not the only Ad network, just the most popular. And AdWords is a bidding system so Google isn't the one setting the price. Furthermore, don't YOU get to pick the search terms? So how is Google raising prices?

        So I don't quite understand your argument that they're abusing their position. It's not like Microsoft charging more for Windows if you happen to sell other OSs. Now THAT would be abusing your position

        Try to use any of their services without Google+ anymore ...

        Me? I do it all the time. I have Gmail b

  • 100% a Hit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AdamJS (2466928) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @11:02AM (#38448492)

    They are just doing everything they can to beat up Google. To tie it and restrict it and (if all else fails) destroy it. Facts be damned.

    Congress' brief relationship with silicon valley has long since ended, and they're doing everything their rusty old selves can manage in order to placate and "secure" America's "#1 Industry".

    • They are just doing everything they can to beat up Google. To tie it and restrict it and (if all else fails) destroy it. Facts be damned.

      ... and this couldn't possibly have anything to do with Google's denouncement of the Congressional idiocy known as SOPA, now could it?

      Nothing to see here, civilian, move along before your presence forces us to bust out the OC spray...

  • Too Big to Ignore (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @11:06AM (#38448552) Homepage Journal

    Any company that gets as big as Google should be investigated for being a monopoly, trust or anchor of a cartel. By "big" I mean both market share and sheer size in either revenue, profit, market cap or assets. Because when a corporation is that big, it probably is distorting the market substantially in those ways. All the other businesses, and of course the people, are paying taxes and expecting as citizens their government protect them from such abuses.

    There's plenty of research the FTC could do automatically on any company that gets that big without causing any costs beyond routine compliance processing all its competitors also do. They should, and any substantial evidence of something more serious should automatically trigger a fuller investigation. The government should not have people whose discretion protects favored corporations from these compulsory reviews, who are obviously going to be corrupted by companies too big to stop. They should not get too big to stop before the government starts stopping them.

    FWIW every president should have an impeachment committee fired up and researching impeachable offenses starting the day they're elected. These various executives have far too much power to corrupt, delay and stop investigations that are the people's only defense from their crimes.

    • by jimicus (737525)

      FWIW every president should have an impeachment committee fired up and researching impeachable offenses starting the day they're elected. These various executives have far too much power to corrupt, delay and stop investigations that are the people's only defense from their crimes.

      I wonder how many US presidents would even have lasted long enough to take their oath after election?

  • by Nadaka (224565) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @11:29AM (#38448888)

    If they really wanted to investigate monopoly abuse:

    Look no further than Ebay / Paypal. That relationship is a rediculous example of monopoly abuse. Ebay cornered the market for online auctions and then forced paypal on to everyone.

  • "They also ask the FTC to consider what Google could do with the Android mobile operating system, and suggest that although it does not now, the firm could force hardware makers that use Android to set its search engine as the default."

    Oh wait... we haven't heard this before. Where was the letter from senators complaining that Microsoft could do these same kind of things?

    I haven't checked yet but does anyone know whether senators Kolb and Lee have received sizable bribes^Wcampaign contributions from Micr

  • The Senators are also warning that Google is only facing one real competitor (PDF), Microsoft's Bing.

    That's like saying the only competition Country Time Lemonade has is that kid selling lemonade on the street corner, which may or may not have come from a bottle of Country Time Lemonade to begin with.

  • They never learned how to buy governments. Technology means nothing, without active participation in good ol' corruption, you can't achieve much in most of the world, including the US.
  • by TrumpetPower! (190615) <ben@trumpetpower.com> on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @12:27PM (#38449752) Homepage

    I can't believe all y'all're missing the point so spectacularly.

    Yes, searching on Google is free. So what? Over-the-air TV is free. That doesn't mean a broadcaster can't have a monopoly.

    Google's not a searching company any more than they're a Webmail company or a YouTube company or whatever.

    They're an advertising company. Their customers are those who pay them to run ads, and the product they sell to their customers is the eyeballs of those who see the ads.

    And they are very much a monopoly in that arena.

    Sheesh. It's like everybody else who's posting on this thread needs to turn in their Geek cards. I thought y'all knew this already...?

    Cheers,

    b&

  • actual Schmidt quote (Score:4, Informative)

    by snsh (968808) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @12:34PM (#38449844)

    The original poster oversimplifies what was said at the actual Senate hearing. Fast forward to 1:21:50 here: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/301681-1 [c-spanvideo.org]

    Herbert Kohl: but you do recognize that... in the words that are used in antitrust kind of oversight... your market share constitutes monopoly...dominant - special power dominant for a monopoly firm. you - you recognize that you're in that area?

    Eric Schmidt: um i would agree senator that we're in that area um again with apologies because i'm not a lawyer my understand of monopoly findings is that it's actually a judicial process so i'd have to let the judges and so forth actually do such a finding...

  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @01:38PM (#38450670) Homepage

    The big antitrust issue is Google's preference for its own services in search results. Search for "new movies" with Google. [google.com] Everything on the screen is a Google ad or service. No organic search results appear above the fold. The same thing happens for "DVD player" [google.com], where everything is either an ad or Google Shopping.

    As Senators Kohl and Lee write: "Rather than act as an honest broker of unbiased search results, Google's search results appear to favor the company's own web products and services. Given Google's dominant share in Internet search, any such bias or preferencing would raise serious questions as to whether Google is seeking to leverage its search dominance in adjacent markets, in a manner potentially contrary to antitrust law." Exactly.

    US antitrust law comes from an era when railroads dominated the economy. Railroads could use their routes and shipping rates to extend their influence into real estate (especially in the western US, where the railroads came before the population) and manufacturing (by favoring affiliated manufacturers in shipping rates). Google now has something of a comparable position on the Internet.

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