FTC hires former DoJ lawyer in Google antitrust investigation

Summary:The FTC has hired a prominent former Justice Dept. lawyer in a bid to direct an investigation into Google's business practices, alongside a European antitrust case into the company.

The Federal Trade Commission has hired a former Justice Dept. prosecutor in efforts to push forward with its investigation into Google. Lawyer Beth Wilkinson will help the Commission decide whether it should bring charges against the search giant for antitrust violations.

Wilkinson is best known for helping to convict the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in 1997, and will likely play a pivotal role in the Commission's ongoing investigation, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Google is being investigated by the FTC under the suspicion it abused its dominance in search advertising. It is accused of stifling competition by manipulating or 'cooking' search results, and pushing up the price of advertising sales. The FTC received a number of complaints, mostly from search rivals, claiming Google pushed down the search results of their companies and favoured its own products over others.

In hiring Wilkinson, it sends a signal that the Commission is seeking to take the matter to court. That said, the FTC noted said it did not mean a case would ultimately be brought before the courts.

Wilkinson will "carry out the duties of a trial lawyer," and noting that her hiring would not be without good reason, the Journal reported in an interview with FTC Commissioner J. Thomas Rosch.

Across the pond in Europe --- where Google has a higher market share than in the U.S., at over 90 percent compared to over 65 percent --- antitrust and competition authorities are also still deliberating whether to bring a case against the search company.

The European Commission said last month it is close to deciding whether it will launch a formal antitrust investigation into Google, but said that it will likely come “after Easter”.

Google faces a fine up to 10 percent of its global annual turnover should it be found to be flouting Europe's antitrust laws.

It is likely, as per previous co-ordinated trans-Atlantic investigations, that the FTC and European authorities will announce whether their respective cases will go to court around the same time.

Image credit: Flickr.

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Topics: Security, Enterprise Software, Google

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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