Google May Come Under U.S. Antitrust Scrutiny—Again

May 11, 2016, 8:54 PM UTC
Google Illustration
BERLIN, GERMANY - JUNE 02: The Google search engine is displayed on a screen on June 02, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Michael Gottschalk/Photothek via Getty Images)
Photograph by Michael Gottschalk — Photothek/Getty Images

Alphabet’s Google search engine faces intense antitrust scrutiny in Europe over its business practices. That scrutiny may spill over into its home country, the U.S.

Federal Trade Commission officials have recently restarted discussions about whether Google has abused its position as the country’s dominant search engine by favoring its own products over competitors in search results, according to Politico. The FTC discussions signal “renewed agency interest” in a potential antitrust examination, Politico reports, after the agency investigated similar allegations in 2013.

That inquiry concluded after the FTC found no wrongdoing. A new investigation would have to show that Google had used its dominant position to unfairly squash competition and limit consumer choice.

The agency has also held recent meetings about Google’s mobile operating system, Android.

The discussions come as a handful of tech companies control increasing amount of the time consumers spend online, how they navigate the web, and get information. That ultimately means fewer choices for consumers, a phrase that sets off alarm bells among regulators.

Facebook (FB) recently said its 1.6 billion monthly active users spend an average of 50 minutes with its services daily. The company is currently subject to a Senate committee investigation over whether it purposely suppressed news from conservative outlets in its “Trending News” module.

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For its part, Google set itself up to avoid this kind of scrutiny when it restructured as Alphabet in 2015. In the new organization, Google, which accounts for the vast majority of the company’s revenue and all of its profits, is just one unit in a large portfolio of businesses.

In that way, Google’s massive, successful, and dominant search advertising business seems less scary when its positioned alongside a venture capital arm, a connected thermostat company, and a self-driving vehicle business. The company also significantly slowed its pace of acquisitions last year and stepped up its lobbying.

An Alphabet (GOOG) representative did not immediately respond to request for comment.


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