FTC broadens Google antitrust probe to include Android

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the FTC has expanded its probe into Google's business practices to include the Android mobile platform.
Written by Matt Weinberger, Contributor

The FTC's antitrust probe into Google's business practices may not just stop at search, with The Wall Street Journal reporting that the Android mobile platform is going under the microscope too.

At issue, according to the "people familiar with the probe" cited by that WSJ report, is whether or not Google keeps its Android handset manufacturer partners from using "competitors' services." Specifics aren't given, and while that wording could refer to specific products like weather apps, it's easy to see how it might refer to competing operating systems like Microsoft Windows Phone 7.

This news comes just about six weeks after the Federal Trade Commission first made clear its intent to probe Google's business, though we could only guess exactly what they were looking for.

But over time, it became apparent that the FTC was investigating allegations that Google unfairly pushed competing services down in their search results, effectively killing businesses by keeping customers from finding them.

There's an extra twist this time around, according to that same Wall Street Journal report: regulators may be looking into accusations that before sinking those competitors' search rankings, Google scrapes them for data like restaurant rankings and incorporates it into their own offerings.

If true, it would explain why Google's made otherwise confusing moves like removing external reviews from Google Places - it wants to look like it's addressing FTC concerns before they're made official.

Thus far, the most any news outlet has been able to get out of Google is the following statement:

"We understand that with success comes scrutiny. We're happy to answer any questions they have about our business."

That's a healthy attitude for Google to adopt, given that chairman Eric Schmidt is going to be testifying on these allegations in front of a US Senate antitrust hearing on September 21st. And that's not to mention the ongoing European Union antitrust investigation.

We're getting closer to some solid details on the FTC's specific concerns with Google. Perhaps just as importantly, we're speeding towards the day where Google has to stop delaying and start addressing those concerns directly.

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