Is Microsoft Trying to Make Google Swallow the Same Bitter Antitrust Pill It Had To?

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Photo: Tony Avelar/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Google might get Microsofted: Federal investigators are launching a civil probe into whether the search company is in violation of antitrust laws. If the FTC does indeed bring a suit, it will potentially be the most significant such case since Microsoft was hit with an antitrust lawsuit in the nineties, which kept the company intact but dramatically slowed its growth.

The investigation focuses on "whether Google searches unfairly steer users to the company's own growing network of services at the expense of rival providers," reports The Wall Street Journal. So, for instance, someone searching for information about a local restaurant will get results from Google Places above, say, Yelp (or the wonderful New York Magazine "Restaurant" section), since the same standards that create the page rankings for results aren't applied to internal Google sites. (If you've ever been in line for the bathroom at a party when someone invokes "house" privilege to cut, you perhaps feel their pain.) The probe will also look into whether Google is "abusing its dominance in search ads to extend its control to other markets, from mobile phones to online television, publishing and airline travel."

Expedia, TripAdvisor, WebMD, and Citysearch, among others, have all bellyached publicly, but Google believes there's perhaps a more sinister force behind the coordinated complaints: long-overshadowed rival Microsoft. The older tech company insists nothing of the sort is going on and that "it isn't behind other companies' actions, but merely helps direct them to the proper authorities." Which is a little like saying you brought someone to a loaded gun and explained in detail how to pull the trigger, but okay.

Feds to Launch Probe of Google [WSJ]