The Federal Trade Commission is turning up the heat in an antitrust investigation into whether Google has manipulated search results to deemphasize products by its competitors.
The New York Times‘ reports that the FTC has hired prosecutor Beth Wilkinson, best known for her part in the trial of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh , to assist part-time in the investigation. This marks the second time the FTC has brought in an outside litigator in the last decade, according to that report, indicating a level of sincerity in the investigation.
“Technology is transforming our society,” Wilkinson told that publication. “It affects people at every level. As a mother, I see it with my kids. As a professional, I see it affecting our work. And in society, it impacts privacy, competition, our interactions with other people – just about everything.”
The agency is investigating whether Google played with its search algorithm to give its competitors a lower showing on search results – and, presumably, whether doing so would be in violation of existing law. The FTC has not yet announced whether it will pursue a formal case against Google.
Google has taken image hits during the past year in the realm of user privacy, including heavy flak for bypassing the default security settings on Apple‘s Safari browser. Recently, they received a mild fine from the Federal Communications Commission that effectively ended another investigation that the company had improperly gathered data about home wireless networks from the fleet of cars that collect imagery for Google Street View.
Forbes’ Daniel Fisher, though, took Google’s side in a fiery editorial, arguing that it’s unjust that tactics that would be ignored or tolerated in a startup become problematic only when a company has reached a certain mass.
“Microsoft learned the penalty for success in the early 1990s, when the Justice Department sued for various practices including bundling its Windows Explorer browser with its dominant operating system and thus driving Netscape out of business,” he wrote.
Fisher also pointed out that Apple, similarly, continues to sell iOS and OSX only on premium-grade Apple computers.
Image: Google, Microsoft