FairSearch.org Urges AGs to Tackle Google Over Antitrust

FairSearch.org, a coalition of companies critical of Google's business practices, is urging all 50 U.S. state attorneys general to investigate the search giant over possible antitrust violations.

The coalition, which includes Google archrival Microsoft, as well as Travelocity, Kayak, Expedia and TripAdvisor, has sent a letter, along with a 44-page white paper, outlining several ways in which it alleges Google is illegally abusing its dominant position in search.

Google's alleged antitrust violations harm competitors, consumers, innovation, economic growth and job creation, so it's important for the attorneys general to probe Google's business practices, according to FairSearch.org.

Google is already the subject of antitrust probes from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the European Union and the Korean Fair Trade Commission. There have been reports that several attorneys general are also conducting antitrust investigations into Google's business.

"Evidence is mounting that Google's business practices deserve further investigation from law enforcement and antitrust officials and that the time to act to protect competition, innovation and consumers is now," wrote FairSearch.org adviser and former Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch in the letter.

"State Attorneys General have a critical role to play in investigating Google's conduct to prevent further harm to competition and consumers, and many of you are already deeply involved," the letter reads.

Specifically, Lynch alleges that Google engages in "deceptive" search results displays that trick users into clicking on links to Google sites by placing those links at the top or in the middle of the results page and making them seem like organic search results.

He also accuses Google of manipulating its search ranking algorithm so that sites from competitors are either excluded or receive poor placement.

Google also engages in "stealing" of content, like user reviews, from third-party websites, and displays that material on Google pages without permission, according to Lynch.

FairSearch.org also maintains that Google treats advertisers unfairly by manipulating their quality scores to inflate ad prices, knowing that the use of its advertising platform is a "must buy" because of the company's dominance in search usage and advertising.

Finally, Google is squelching competition in the nascent mobile search market by acquiring companies that it considers a threat and including "exclusivity restrictions" in Android licensing agreements "to maintain and expand its dominance," the letter reads.

Google declined to comment.

FairSearch.org was formed in October of last year to oppose Google's US$700 million acquisition of air-travel flight-information software maker ITA Software.

After a months-long review, the U.S. Department of Justice approved the ITA Software acquisition with a number of conditions, including a requirement that Google must develop and license travel software to competitors, as well as provide arbitration for complaints about fees from online travel sites.

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