Friday, June 24, 2011
Gavin O'Malley, June 24, 2011, 10:37 AM
Feds Investigate Google's Possible Search AbusesThe Wall Street Journal

Google's about to get its Microsoft moment -- and that's not a good thing. According to reports, federal regulators about poised to launch a broad, formal investigation into whether the company has abused its dominance in search advertising.

"The civil probe, which has the potential to reshape how companies compete on the Internet, is the most serious legal threat yet to the 12-year-old company, though it wouldn't necessarily lead to any federal allegations of wrongdoing against Google," reports The Wall Street Journal, citing sources. To date, Google has already faced several antitrust probes, but the government has so far limited its investigations to reviews of the company's mergers and acquisitions.

By contrast, this latest would-be inquiry "will examine fundamental issues relating to Google's core search-advertising business, its biggest money maker," notes WSJ. "This is the main act," Ted Henneberry, a former trial lawyer at the Justice Department and partner at Orrick Herrington and Sutcliffe, tells The New York Times.Not surprisingly, ", which includes Expedia, Microsoft and other online travel companies whose goal was to keep ITA from falling into Google's grasp, cheered the idea that the FTC is launching a broad antitrust investigation into Google's business practices," reports eWeek.

Policy watchers, meanwhile, tell WSJ that the probe could be "as much of a watershed event for antitrust policy as the Justice Department's landmark lawsuit against Microsoft Corp. in the 1990s." That said, the chances of Google being found guilty of antitrust behavior, as Microsoft was, are far smaller, according to Professor Joshua Wright of George Mason Law School. As the Guardian reports: "Wright said for the U.S. to bring a successful case against Google, it would have to prove the company was harming consumers."

"Antitrust law focuses on not whether a company has achieved a monopoly, but whether it abuses that monopoly to create monopolies in other markets," PCMag points out. "Defining what or what is not a market can be the linchpin of the investigation. The FTC's investigation, if it occurs, would be the first step in a process that could end with a formal lawsuit."

Read the whole story...
  • Gavin O'Malley, June 24, 2011, 10:37 AM
  • Winklevosses Change Mind: Back In Court Psych! Just a day after deciding not to appeal the Supreme Court ruling upholding their $65 million settlement with Facebook, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss pressed their case in federal court in Boston. In a court filing Thursday, the Winklevosses and their business partner Divya Narendra said they planned to ask the judge to investigate whether Facebook "intentionally or inadvertently suppressed evidence" during litigation, reports The Los Angeles Times.

    "As the old saying goes, it ain't over until it's over," the paper writes. "The dramatic seven-year legal feud that inspired 'The Social Network' may have one last plot twist." But, not if Facebook has anything say about it. "These are old and baseless allegations that have been considered and rejected previously by the courts," Neel Chatterjee, an attorney for Facebook, tells LAT.

    In April, the Winklevosses and Narendra said they planned to ask the Boston federal court to look into their claims that Facebook and its lawyers hid instant messages from them during litigation. That request had been suspended during the U.S. Supreme Court appeal. "That part of the case will begin now," says Tyler Meade, the Winklevosses' attorney. Read the whole story...
  • Facebook Tests New Ad-Friendly Homepage Design Facebook is reportedly testing a new homepage design that allows the news feed to be scrolled independently of the rest of the page. Critical to advertisers, "This allows ads, app bookmarks, and the top navigation bar to remain visible no matter how many news feed stories a user scrolls through," Inside Facebook explains.

    If implemented, the Facebook-obsessed blog believes the new homepage could increase click through rates for advertisers, while also improving user retention for applications, and making the site easier to browse. Yet, the change "could come as a shock to users who developed browsing behaviors around the current two-tabbed news feed," warns Insider Facebook.

    Still, "the Facebook home page hasn't seen a major redesign in 16 months, so it's about due for an update given Facebook's fast-paced approach to iterating on products." Last week, Facebook began testing with a very small number of users a new real-time feed, dubbed "Happening Now," in the right sidebar where Upcoming Events are usually listed. Read the whole story...
  • Twitter Plans Bolder Ad Strategy Twitter is considering placing ads among the short messages that users see in the most active parts of its service, The Financial Times reports, citing sources. "The move to place 'promoted tweets' in the main 'stream' of tweets on the service is likely to be controversial with users who have seen only limited and unobtrusive marketing messages so far in Twitter's five-year history," it writes.
    ,br> Yet, the move comes amid increasing pressure on the microblogging leader to turn its massive user base into dollars. As FT puts it, the "service that has so far failed to make money from its audience as effectively as rivals such as Facebook. Twitter is also reportedly contemplating "deals and offers" similar in style to rival Groupon, sources tell FT.

    It may also introduce enhanced profile pages for brands and media management tools, which could allow advertisers to pre-schedule 140-character posts. Meanwhile, Twitter executives, including revenue head Adam Bain, have reportedly been meeting with marketers and agencies at Cannes Lions to discuss new ad strategies. Read the whole story...
  • Google Expands Behavioral Targeting In other Google news, the company is finally offering behavioral targeting capabilities to all of its advertisers. As Search Engine Land notes, Google first announced a beta test of this capability over two years ago -- way back in 2009 -- and it has slowly been introducing it to larger groups over time. Now, all Google advertisers have "the ability to target ads to users by interest -- based on their previous browsing activity, or behavior."

    Advertisers can choose from over 1,000 interest categories. Google says advertisers testing the capability were successful, citing one advertiser increasing brand lift by 40%, and a shoe retailer driving 400% more conversions at a lower cost-per-sale. Pricing is on a cost-per-click model with an auction, Search Engine Land points out.

    "The system looks at the types of pages that a user visits, considering how recently and frequently the person visits those sites, and associates that browser cookie with the appropriate interest categories," it writes. "Users can view and edit the categories they've been associated at Google's Ad Preferences page, and opt out entirely, if they so desire." Read the whole story...