The FTC antitrust probe examining Google has moved past the initial stages. The investigation will now seek evidence to back specific claims and will delve deeper into key areas of Google's behavior, including elements of search, Android, and Places.
The Practices Being Examined
According to sources quoted by the Wall Street Journal, the FTC now has a fairly clear idea of what they'll be looking into. Here are the key areas of the probe:
- Google is unfairly promoting their own content above content of competitors on the SERP.
- Specific competitor sites are being unfairly demoted in or removed from the search index.
- Google prevents or prohibits smartphone manufacturers from using services that compete with Android's or Google's.
- Google Places took information from other review sites unfairly.
Google claims that they've done nothing wrong, but they're "happy to answer any questions they [the FTC] have about our business," according to a Google spokesperson. Still, certain allegations, if backed with proof, would be clearly damning, while many of the practices that Google admits to are in a precarious legal grey area.
The Real Questions
Now the FTC will be asking the important questions, with the biggest item being whether any competitors can prove their claims. Google will be given a chance to respond to any evidence against them, and the probe may end without a suit ever being filed against the search giant. In either case, though, the investigation is likely to take roughly a year – possibly well longer.
At the end of it all, we'll have the answers to the real questions on how technology companies of massive size will be regulated. Here are the real questions:
Can companies take information that's publicly available on the web and aggregate it using an opt-out only approach if those they're pulling information from happen to be competitors?
Has Google gotten so big that they need to treat and rank their own links – including those in Google Maps, Places, and Shopping – from the same base level as links of competitors?
Is the use of Google as a deeply integrated default on Android a way of unfairly competing with alternative search engines?
As you can see, answers to these questions could apply to more than just Google. Other groups, most notably Apple and Microsoft, would suffer the consequences of the legal precedents if Google was restricted in any of these areas.