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Group calls for antitrust probe into Google search, ad practices

Consumer Watchdog, others say U.S. should consider breaking up Google

By Grant Gross
April 21, 2010 01:57 PM ET

IDG News Service - The U.S. Department of Justice should launch a broad antitrust investigation into Google Inc.'s search and advertising practices and consider a wide array of penalties, including possibly breaking the company up, a consumer group said today.

Consumer Watchdog, along with a mobile entrepreneur and two lawyers representing Google rivals, all called on the DOJ to initiate an antitrust investigation focusing on a number of issues, including Google's marriage of search results to advertising and its book search service.

"The time has clearly come for Justice to launch a major, broad antitrust investigation against Google, and we think all remedies should be on the table, including, we think, the possible breakup of the Internet giant," said John Simpson, a consumer advocate with Consumer Watchdog. The 25-year-old organization focuses on a number of consumer issues, including health care, insurance and energy, but the group's move into tech issues in recent years has largely focused on criticisms of Google.

Consumer Watchdog sent a letter to the DOJ Wednesday asking that the agency investigate Google for antitrust violations. "For most Americans -- indeed, for most people in the world -- Google is the gateway to the Internet," the letter said. "How it tweaks its proprietary search algorithms can ensure a business' success or doom it to failure."

A DOJ spokeswoman declined to comment on Consumer Watchdog's request.

Simpson and other speakers criticized several of Google's business practices.

Google has manipulated search and advertisement placement results to shut out potential competitors who counted on Google results to drive traffic to their sites, said Joseph Bial, a lawyer at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft who represents myTriggers.com and TradeComet.com. Both companies have filed antitrust lawsuits against Google alleging that the search giant shut out their attempts to advertise on Google.com.

Google's dominance in search and search-based advertising means that online and mobile advertisers have little choice but to do business with them, added Simon Buckingham, the New York-based founder of Ringtones.com and Appitalism. The close ties between Google's search results and search-based advertising means the "neutrality of the search results are compromised," he said.

Adam Kovacevich, senior manager for global communications and public affairs at Google, discounted the criticisms, saying Consumer Watchdog has been "relentlessly negative" about Google. The group recently questioned the reasons why Google stopped censoring search results in China and criticized Google's privacy Dashboard as inadequate, Kovacevich said.

"We totally understand that with size and success comes scrutiny," he added. "Although given their track record, even if we broke Google in half tomorrow, Consumer Watchdog would probably insist that we split halves into quarters."

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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