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Texas antitrust investigators request Google 'ad rate formula'

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Texas antitrust investigators have asked Google to turn over its formula for setting advertising rates and documents that show "manual overriding or altering of” its search rankings, according to a report citing a letter from the Texas attorney general's office.

Bloomberg reports that Kim Van Winkle, an assistant attorney general in Texas’s antitrust division, sent a 13-page letter to a Google lawyer on July 29 requesting the information. According to Bloomberg, the letter also asked for Google documents involving rival search engines from Microsoft and Yahoo!, and about complaints over the behavior of Google's ad system.

Asked to comment on the report, Google spokesman Adam Kovacevich said: "Since we started Google we have worked hard to do the right thing by our users and our industry, and while there’s always going to be room for improvement, we're committed to competing fair and square. We're continuing to work with the Texas Attorney General's office to answer their questions and understand any concerns.”

In early September, Google confirmed that the Texas attorney general's office was conducting an antitrust review of the company. According Google's September statement, Texas attorney general Greg Abbott had asked Mountain View for information regarding three companies: UK-based price comparison engine Foundem – which is also the subject of a Google antitrust investigation in the European Union – New York-based TradeComet, and Ohio-based myTriggers.

According to Bloomberg, the letter to Google sent by the Texas attorney general's office is primarily concerned with information involving AdWords – Google's online ad system – but it also requests information regarding Froogle, Google Product Search, and Google Shopping. (Froogle is the former name of Google Product Search.)

Google Product Search plays a role in the EU's ongoing antitrust investigation of the company. Foundem offers a price comparison service similar to Google Product Search, and it has accused Google of "exploiting its dominance of search in ways that stifle innovation, suppress competition, and erode consumer choice".

Foundem claims that Google uses "discriminatory penalties" to remove sites from its search-results engine regardless of relevance, and that Google's Universal Search setup unfairly promotes the company's own services, including Google Product Search, over competing services.

In addition to antitrust investigations from the Texas attorney general and the EU, Google is facing a US Department of Justice review of its proposed acquisition of flight-data outfit ITA software. ®

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