The New York Times reports that the Federal Trade Commission is preparing a recommendation that the government sue Google for abusing its position as the dominant search engine.
The accusation is that Google manipulates search results to favour its own products, and makes it harder for competitors and their products to appear prominently on a results page.
The commission is also building a team to take Google to court, if it comes to that.
The European competition authorities are also pressing ahead and seeking changes in Google’s behaviour.
Joaquín Almunia, the European Union’s competition commissioner expressed concerns that Google is “using its dominance in online search to foreclose rival specialized search engines and search advertisers.”
Google is also being investigated by the attorneys general of six states: Texas, Ohio, New York, California, Oklahoma and Mississippi.
Accusations include that of manipulating the search results to favour Google commerce services such as Google Shopping and Google Places for advertising local restaurants and businesses. In the civilian subpoenas, the F.T.C. calls this “preferencing.”
The investigators are also looking into whether Google’s automated advertising marketplace, AdWords, discriminates against advertisers from competing online commerce services like comparison shopping sites and consumer review Web sites.
The government is also investigating Google’s practices in the smartphone industry, inquiring if its contracts with handset makers and carriers prevent them from removing or modifying Google products, like its Android operating system or Google search. In addition, it is looking into Google’s use of smartphone patents.
The most probable outcome of the antitrust investigations of Google, antitrust experts say, is a settlement. The broad principle, they say, would be an agreement not to discriminate in favour of its products over smaller competitors.
Regulators, antitrust experts say, will most likely push for more sweeping commitments on Google’s corporate conduct in the future to try to ensure that the company will not use its powerful position in Internet search to give it an unfair advantage in other businesses and stifle competition, which antitrust prohibits.
The FTC most famously settled with Microsoft in a broad antitrust case which threatened to break Microsoft up, resulted in more than 10 years of supervision, and prevented Microsoft from tying their browser to their operating system, now an accepted practice, and also prevented Microsoft from bundling their online services with their operating system, also now an accepted practice.
The agency will decide whether to sue Google by the end of the year.
Google said in a statement on Friday, “We are happy to answer any questions that regulators have about our business.”
Read more detail at the New York Times here.