Google Faces New Antitrust Complaints

Earlier this month, the shopping comparison search engine myTriggers brought an antitrust action against Google, alleging that the search giant unfairly lowered myTriggers' quality score.

The company argues that this move resulted in the cost of its search ads rising by as much as 10,000% -- a prohibitive increase that forced myTriggers to stop purchasing pay-per-click ads from Google.

MyTriggers additionally alleged that, last December, its placement in Google's organic results plunged for no good reason.

Lawyers at the firm representing myTriggers in the case -- Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft -- have represented Microsoft in antitrust matters. Those lawyers also are representing another search marketer, TradeComet, which filed an antitrust case against Google last year.

Now it's come to light that three other companies -- Foundem (a U.K. price comparison site as well as a member of the Microsoft-funded Initiative for a Competitive Online Marketplace), the French legal search engine, and Microsoft's Ciao! from Bing -- have asked the European authorities to investigate whether Google violated antitrust law by lowering their position in the organic results.

One of those companies, Foundem, raised a similar issue with the Federal Communications Commission. In a filing about net neutrality, Foundem complained that Google "gives preferential placement to its own Map, News, YouTube, Book, and Product Search services" -- apparently violating a concept that some anti-Google entities have dubbed "search neutrality."

This afternoon, the nonprofit Consumer Watchdog piled on. Consumer Watchdog called for the Department of Justice to investigate whether Google "is manipulating" search results by returning its own sites high in the search results.

Julia Holtz, Google's senior competition counsel, said in a blog post that the company isn't intentionally targeting rivals. "Though each case raises slightly different issues," she wrote of the three European companies who complained, "the question they ultimately pose is whether Google is doing anything to choke off competition or hurt our users and partners. This is not the case."

Whatever Google's motives, its moves clearly have angered some search marketers who have seen their prices rise, or organic rankings fall, and don't understand why. While these complaints seem to have picked up momentum in recent weeks, they're nothing new for the search giant. As far back as 2006, the company KinderStart unsuccessfully sued Google after it stopped showing KinderStart's site in the results. Not only did a federal district court judge in California toss the case, but the judge ordered KinderStart's attorney to pay $7,500 in sanctions for having brought the action.

Of course, much has changed for Google in the last four years -- especially the DOJ's view of the company's market position. In late 2008, the DOJ forced Google to back out of a deal to power search results on Yahoo on the theory that the agreement would further extend Google's dominance in search.

The assessment of DOJ lawyers certainly doesn't carry the same weight as would a judicial ruling against Google. At the same time, now that the Justice Department has gone on record with concerns about the company, courts and other regulators might not be quite as fast to dismiss complaints as in the past.

1 comment about "Google Faces New Antitrust Complaints".
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  1. Theresa m. Moore from Antellus, February 25, 2010 at 12:51 p.m.

    I had considered purchasing PPC ads and did a short-term analysis of the results. Then I set up Adsense patches and waited a year before I took them down again. During that time I did not earn a single penny, not because my site was not navigable (Urchin gave me a good performance rating), but because people simply don't click on the ads. For Google to suddenly elevate the cost per click of an ad is a bad move for Google, and anyone wanting to maximize their presence on the net can choose among thousands of other directories. The purpose of the ads is to drive viewers to the site, but unless you have something everyone wants to buy, PPC is a great way to throw money down the drain.

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