US trade agency gives ultimatum to Google amid probe

Bloomberg

Wed, Nov 14, 2012 - Page 15

Google Inc is being pressed by US Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jonathan Leibowitz to offer to resolve the agency’s antitrust probe in the next few days or face a lawsuit, two sources familiar with the matter said.

Google has been in discussions with the agency for about two weeks and has not put any remedy proposals on the table, said the people, who declined to be identified because the negotiations are private.

For almost 20 months, the commission has been probing whether California-based Google is abusing its dominance of the Internet and it is prepared to sue if the operator of the world’s largest search engine fails to make an acceptable proposal, the people said.

The commission has told Google it will not accept a resolution short of a consent decree and is prepared to take action in the next week or two, one of the people said.

“We continue to work cooperatively with the Federal Trade Commission and are happy to answer any questions they may have,” Google spokesman Adam Kovacevich said in an e-mail on Monday.

Federal Trade Commission spokesman Peter Kaplan declined to comment.

Specifics about what elements a complaint would contain and whether it would include provisions about Google’s practices on search rankings are still under discussion within the agency, a third person familiar with the matter said.

Federal Trade Commission investigators have been probing Google for ranking its own services higher than those of competitors, for signing exclusive agreements to provide search services to online publishers and for making it difficult for advertisers to compare data about campaigns running on rival sites by Yahoo Inc and Microsoft Corp’s Bing, people familiar with the investigation have said.

A staff memo sent to the agency’s commissioners last month includes a recommendation to issue a complaint for Google’s practice of using customer reviews from other Web sites such as Yelp Inc to flesh out its own services on local restaurants and other businesses, the sources said.

The staff has also recommended that the agency issue a complaint against Google for misusing patent protections to block rivals’ smartphones from coming to market, the sources said.