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Google to be hit by US anti-trust probe - report

FTC preps microscope, eyes Mountain View ass

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The US Federal Trade Commission is on the verge of serving Google with civil subpoenas as part of a "wide-ranging" antitrust investigation into the company's search and ad practices, according to a report citing people familiar with the matter.

The Wall Street Journal reports that a five member FTC panel intends to send the subpoenas to Google within "days".

According to The Journal's sources, other companies are likely to receive subpoenas at a later date, as the commission seeks to gather more information about Google's business.

In April, Bloomberg reported that Google could face a broad antitrust probe from the FTC. Previously, Bloomberg reported, the FTC was waiting to see if the Department of Justice would challenge Google's acquisition of flight data outfit ITA Software. The DoJ has now approved the transaction – with conditions.

The DoJ was investigating whether Google could potentially use its web search monopoly to hamper competition in the "vertical" flight search market, but it may also have asked whether the company's search dominance could lead to other monopolies in virtually any vertical search market, from product search to online mapping.

Last fall, the EU opened a formal antitrust investigation of Google's search and ad practices, and the Texas Attorney General's office has launched a Google investigation of its own. UK-based price comparison engine Foundem is among the complaintants in the EU investigation, and according to Google, the Texas AG has also requested information about Foundem.

In the EU, Foundem has accused Google of using its so-called Universal Search setup to unfairly drive traffic to its own vertical services, such as Google Product Search and Google Maps, and it has argued that the search giant uses unfair discriminatory penalties to deliver its "main" search results.

"You have an overwhelmingly dominant search engine," Foundem CEO Shivaun Raff has told The Register, in describing the company's complaint. "If you add to that that search engine's ability to apply discriminatory penalties - they're discriminatory because some services are manually rendered immune through whitelists - and you add the ability of that search engine to preferentially insert its own services at or near the top of the search results, all of that adds up to an unparalleled and unassailable competitive advantage."

Microsoft has also complained to the EU about Google's practices, as has Ciao, a vertical search service that's now owned by Microsoft. ®

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