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US Antitrust Chief Doesn’t Rule Out New Probe of Google

The head of the U.S. Justice
Department’s antitrust division, speaking at a Senate hearing,
didn’t rule out the department starting another probe of Google
Inc. (GOOG)
’s business practices if new allegations emerge.

Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee today asked Assistant
Attorney General William Baer whether the U.S. Federal Trade
Commission’s decision in January to close a 20-month probe of
Google without taking any action precludes his department from
reviewing fresh complaints of anticompetitive behavior the FTC
hadn’t explored.

“We have a clearance process between the FTC and the
antitrust division that ensures we aren’t investigating the same
thing at the same time,” or even subsequently, Baer said. “We
would have a conversation about who is best suited to do it.”

For the past two years, the antitrust division and the FTC
have split investigations of the Mountain View, California-based
company, with the FTC conducting a broad probe of whether
Google’s business practices hurt competition and the antitrust
division reviewing its acquisitions.

Niki Fenwick, a Google spokeswoman, declined to comment on
Baer’s testimony.

The FTC voted 5-0 not to take action against Google after
concluding that innovations promoted by the search engine
benefitted consumers and outweighed any harm to competition.

Google made some concessions, agreeing to let websites
remove their content from specialized search services such as
Google Shopping and Google Local without removing or demoting
that content from Google’s main search results.

The agency’s decision was a blow to competitors including
Microsoft Corp., Yelp Inc. and Expedia Inc., members of an
alliance of e-commerce and Web-search companies that had pressed
the agency to bring an antitrust lawsuit.

No Precedent

FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, who was named to the post in
February, said the voluntary commitments by Google shouldn’t be
considered a precedent for the agency’s enforcement practices.

“When there is consensus among a majority of commissioners
who find a violation, that should be embodied into a consent
decree,” Ramirez said in response to a question from Lee.

Ramirez, an intellectual property lawyer and a law school
classmate of President Barack Obama, has been on the commission
since April 2010.

The FTC investigation, which was overseen by Ramirez’s
predecessor Jon Leibowitz, who stepped down in February after
eight years at the agency, looked into allegations that Google
manipulated its search algorithms to promote its own products
and services, harming competitors and consumers.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Sara Forden in Washington at
sforden@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Michael Hytha at
mhytha@bloomberg.net

(225)

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