Google is again under investigation by the US Federal Trade Commission – for the 2nd time in less than 3 years. The FTC is going to check whether Android OS has violated antitrust laws by privileging its own products over Google’s competitors. The investigation followed the complaints of the competing tech company executives to the Commission.
It is not a secret that Google, like all other tech giants, has been the target of numerous complaints, many of them connected with its advertising networks. This business of Google is worth an estimated $5bn. For example, one European company complained to the European Commission earlier in 2015 that its application that isolated search functions like Google’s from Google’s trackers had been repeatedly removed from Google’s app store.
Other companies have expressed their concerns over Google’s YouTube Kids app, complaining that the latter unfairly exposes kids to targeted advertising for unhealthy food, for instance. At the moment, the tech giant is also under investigation by the European Commission: the problem is that the European antitrust laws are less lenient that US laws in terms of trade regulation. While the FTC in its investigation into anticompetitive behavior would have to prove that the company’s conduct either creates or increases market power, in the European Union, it’s a level playing field argument and a competition on the merits argument. The United States believes that’s not enough – the Commission would have to go further and prove that prices will increase and that less will be produced. Talking about advertising, such arguments are quite abstract and hard to make.
Previously, the US Federal Trade Commission investigated Microsoft over misuse of its market share via product bundling. That investigation was dropped, but the Department of Justice sued Microsoft five years later over the same concerns, especially its promotion of its own web browser (IE) over Netscape Navigator. A couple years ago, the FTC voted 5-0 to cease investigating Google due to lack of evidence, but not until the tech giant had agreed to change its business practices like restricting access to advertising platforms that compete with its own.