Google in fresh anti-trust probe in the US

Staff Writer
By Staff Writer, ITWeb
Johannesburg, 03 Jun 2019

The US Justice Department is reportedly preparing an investigation of Alphabet’s Google to determine whether the tech giant broke anti-trust law in operating its sprawling online businesses.

Citing two sources familiar with the matter, Reuters reports that officials from the Justice Department’s anti-trust division and Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which both enforce anti-trust law, met in recent weeks to give justice jurisdiction over Google.

According to CNN, the decision reflects the first steps in what could become a wide-ranging probe into the company’s business practices.

It notes that while the scope of the department’s interest is unclear, agency regulators led by anti-trust chief Makan Delrahim may focus their attention on Google’s search business. It believes Google’s advertising practices could also come under scrutiny.

The potential investigation represents the latest attack on a tech company by the administration of US president Donald Trump, who has accused social media companies and Google of suppressing conservative voices on their platforms online.

In a tweet last month, Trump said: “I am continuing to monitor the censorship of AMERICAN CITIZENS on social media platforms. This is the United States of America ‒ and we have what’s known as FREEDOM OF SPEECH! We are monitoring and watching, closely!!”

The president’s comments came after Facebook banned Louis Farrakhan, Alex Jones and other extremists, saying they violated its ban on “dangerous individuals”.

Reuters says a spokesman for the Justice Department said he could not confirm or deny that an investigation was being considered. Google declined to comment.

In 2013, Google agreed to change some of its business practices to resolve FTC concerns that its practices could stifle competition in the markets for popular devices such as smartphones, tablets and gaming consoles, as well as the market for online search advertising.

Under the settlement reached with the FTC, Google agreed to meet its prior commitments to allow competitors access – on fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory terms – to patents on critical standardised technologies needed to make popular devices such as smartphones, laptop and tablet computers, and gaming consoles.

The company also agreed to give online advertisers more flexibility to simultaneously manage ad campaigns on Google’s AdWords platform and on rival ad platforms; and to refrain from misappropriating online content from so-called “vertical” Web sites that focus on specific categories such as shopping or travel for use in its own vertical offerings.

In July last year, the European Commission fined Google EUR4.34 billion for breaching EU anti-trust rules. The commission said since 2011, Google imposed illegal restrictions on Android device manufacturers and mobile network operators to cement its dominant position in general Internet search.