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Google faces an FTC probe into Android and internet search services

Android is attacked from another angle
Thu Aug 11 2011, 15:12

THE SCREWS are being tightened on Google by its rivals as the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) looks into the firm's Android operating system (OS), its internet search dominance and other services.

The FTC's investigation of Google began back in June, however the Wall Street Journal has dug up a little more detail about what the FTC is looking at. First up is whether Google's hugely popular Android smartphone and tablet operating system restricts or blocks the use of services provided by rivals. The FTC will also be looking at whether Google places its own products favourably or excludes rival services when returning internet search results.

The notion that Google might be favouring its own services over others when returning search results would not be a surprise to anyone, after all why should it advertise rival services on its web pages above its own? However the problem is that for the majority of web users Google isn't one of many search engines, it is the go-to web site when looking for something on the internet. If anything the FTC's probe into the firm's web search results highlights the dominant position of the company as the internet's information hub in most countries around the world.

However the FTC's investigation into Android is arguably more of a concern for the firm. Google is already in a bitter dispute with Oracle over claims that Android infringes Java patents, and while these two information technology heavyweights battle it out to reach an inevitable settlement, Google now has to deal with claims that it employs anti-competitive practices with its Android mobile OS, restricting the use of third party services.

The WSJ claims the FTC has been "asking whether Google prevents smartphone manufacturers that use its Android operating system from using competitors' services".

If the FTC is indeed investigating Google for anti-competitive practices and finds that to be the case, it will hurt Google, and not just financially. It's famous 'don't be evil' policy was built upon not becoming another Microsoft, the company that was rebuked and heavily fined by the European Commission for forcing its Internet Explorer web browser down the throats of Windows users.

While Google's Android OS doesn't enjoy the dominance the firm has in the internet search market, just about every analyst report suggests that it will, and sooner rather than later. So if there is abuse of power taking place, the FTC is right to step in now and investigate before Google, or any other company, can stifle internet competition. In the case of Microsoft there is a feeling that by the time the EC stepped in, Microsoft had already got away with its plans for domination.

The WSJ claims that the FTC is preparing to send out civil subpoenas to third parties to aid its investigation. Apparently, the FTC has already held "exploratory meetings and interviews with Google, its competitors and other third parties".

For Google, which gives away the Android OS for free, it looks like Android might become an expensive giveaway as rivals circle and attack it any way they can, including through the FTC. µ


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