End in sight for U.S. FTA’s antitrust probe of Google

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End in sight for U.S. FTA’s antitrust probe of Google

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is pushing to conclude its antitrust investigation of Google in the coming weeks, four people familiar with the matter said.

The agency’s staff will present its findings to the FTC’s five commissioners by mid-September and probably recommend whether to sue the company for hurting competition through its Internet dominance, or suggest a basis for settlement, said the insiders, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the probe is still ongoing.

Google, which operates the world’s largest search engine site, has been engaged in talks with the European Commission, since May, when Chief Competition Officer Joaquin Almunia asked the company to propose solutions to the commission’s concerns.

Competitors have complained that Google promotes its own specialist search services, copies rivals’ travel and restaurant reviews, and stifles competition in the advertising industry through its agreements with Web sites and software developers.

Details of what Google has proposed to the European Union have not been disclosed. That proposal includes an offer to make limited changes to search rankings, including whether Google services are ranked above those of competitors, and warning users if Google products have been given precedence, one of the sources said.

The FTC is aware of what Google has proposed to its European counterparts, three of the people said. The agency would regard a Google proposal, or even overtures to open talks, as premature until it has decided whether the company has violated the law, they added.

“A global settlement would wrap everything up a lot more cleanly for everybody,” said Jeffrey Jacobovitz, an antitrust litigator with McCarthy, Sweeney & Harkaway in Washington.

Google has come under growing pressure from global regulators examining whether the company is thwarting competition in the market for Web searches. In addition to the FTC and EU probes, antitrust agencies in Argentina and Korea are also scrutinizing the company.


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