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Silicon Valley legislators go to bat for Google over FTC probe

@denschaal

Nov 26, 2012 6:48 am

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Whether Google has violated antitrust laws may be up to the courts to decide, but it is clear that cluttering flight and hotel search results screens with results predominantly from its own products harms consumers.

— Dennis Schaal

Free Report: The State of Student Travel

Organic results go missing when searching Google for Los Angeles to Manchester, UK, flights.


With the FTC reportedly close to deciding on whether to sue Google over the way it directs users to its own products in search, two of Google’s hometown Congressional representatives have urged the commission to avoid going after Google for deceptive practices.

Representatives Anna Eshoo and Zoe Lofgren sent a letter to FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz urging the commission to contain its probe of Google to antitrust issues, and to avoid expanding the FTC probe into targeting Google over deceptive practices.

Published reports indicate that the FTC may have concluded that it can’t prove Google has violated the Sherman Act’s monopoly power and anticompetitive conduct provisions, and that proving consumer harm would be a high bar to reach.

The FTC, which is said to be nearing a vote on legal action, is considering suing Google over deceptive practices instead.

The legislators urged the FTC to limit any potential litigation to antitrust issues, and to avoid pursuing a deceptive practices complaint, which is usually relegated to the banking industry.

“We have read with great concern recent reports of information leaks from those inside the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) antitrust investigation of Google,” the two Democrats wrote to Leibowitz. “These reports suggest that the FTC is preparing to use Section 5 of the FTC Act to avoid providing some of the elements of a claim required under Section 2 of the Act. Such a massive expansion of FTC jurisdiction would be unwarranted, unwise, and likely have negative implications for our nation’s economy.”

If the FTC takes no action at all or doesn’t convince Google to alter its search algorithms, then in flight search, users are often left with no organic results — just sponsored ads and Google Flight Search results — visible in the first screen, as Max Rayner of Hudson Crossing points out.

And, hotel search results — other than for sponsored ads and Google Hotel Finder — likewise are pushed down the page.

Are Google Flight Search and Google Hotel Finder always the best answers for consumers, and is it deceptive of Google to display them so high?

If the FTC disregards the advice of the Silicon Valley legislators, the commission could be deciding this issue very soon.

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