The New York Times reports that the FTC is investigating Google’s business practices:
Google confirmed on Friday that the Federal Trade Commission had opened an antitrust investigation into its core search and advertising business.
The inquiry has the potential to turn into the biggest showdown between the United States government and a major technology company since the Microsoft antitrust trial that began in the late 1990s.
In a regulatory filing, Google said that a day earlier it had “received a subpoena and a notice of civil investigative demand” from the commission. Google said that the agency’s investigation concerned its “business practices, including search and advertising.” In the brief filing, the company added, “Google is cooperating with the F.T.C. on this investigation.”
I think it is fair to say that Google knows how to play hardball in business as well as any technology enterprise (look at a few of the comments at the NYT link from past customers), and that the company’s “Don’t be evil” mantra was a pleasant enough saying in its early days, but whether it has reached the point of being anti-competitive in the search engine market will be challenging for the FTC to prove. How difficult is it for a user to switch search engines to Bing or a metasearch engine such as DogPile? If switching costs involve less than a minute of the user’s time, it might be difficult for the government to demonstrate that harm has come to users or to advertisers/customers — disgruntled advertisers have other options to hawk their online presence if Google hikes its rates.