Senators urge FTC to step up Google probe following EU's antitrust offer

Two senators have urged the FTC to set up its investigation into Google's alleged antitrust behaviour following a settlement offer from the European Commission earlier this week.

Two U.S. senators have urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to step up its probe into Google's business practices following the European Commission's own antitrust settlement offer.

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who were both involved in a fiery Senate Judiciary Subcommittee session when Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt gave evidence, called on the search giant to address the European antitrust regulator's concerns.

The two senators also urged the FTC to do more following the European Commission's offering.

"We are pleased that the EU is working with Google to develop a set of voluntary solutions to the search engine’s problematic practices, including those that we identified at our September 2011 hearing," the senators said in a statement.

"We are hopeful that Google will be a willing partner with the EU’s Competition Commissioner. We continue to urge the FTC to investigate the concerns we raised at our hearing and to ensure a competitive search market where consumers can fairly pick the winners and losers in our online economy."

The FTC is just as keen as the European Commission to investigate Google, though the U.S. regulator has not yet said whether it will offer an settlement offer to the company.

The trade regulator recently hired a former Justice Dept. prosecutor as part of efforts to push forward with its antitrust investigation into the search giant. The FTC left its settlement options open when it said the lawyer's hiring did not mean the case would ultimately be brought before the courts.

On Monday, European Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia offered Google a chance to settle the antitrust investigation and gave the search giant a few weeks to submit changes in a bid to stave off a full investigation.

If Google is found to breach European antitrust laws, it could be fined up to 10 percent of its global annual turnover, not exceeding $3--4 billion (€2.3--3bn).

A Google spokesperson left little room for interpretation on the company's next move. Noting that Google had "only just started to look through" the Commission's arguments, notably the four key points Almunia highlighted in his midday briefing.

Google said it "disagrees with the conclusions, but we're happy to discuss any concerns they might have," in a statement to sister site CNET.

Google denies any wrongdoing. During the Senate subcommittee last year, Schmidt told Sen. Lee that his company never "cooked" search results --- one of the main allegations against the company.

Image credit: Flickr.

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