The US Department of Justice is investigating Google over possible antitrust violations stemming from the search engine giant’s products’ handling of content in search results.
According to a new report by the New York Times, the DOJ is exploring potentially launching an antitrust case against Google as early as this month based on a regulatory investigation of data its social media subsidiary, Google+, has received. It could make for a rather uncomfortable position for Google, a company that is fighting for dominance on several fronts, not least a longstanding battle with Apple in the mobile market.
Antitrust lawyers familiar with the investigation said it’s the first time the DOJ has sought to scrutinize Google’s practices over how it ranks its own content, in the form of YouTube videos and other search results. In addition, it would be another step in the department’s investigations into Amazon, which was accused in January of antitrust violations. The DOJ hasn’t accused Amazon of operating a monopoly but it is exploring any kind of connection to its economic practices.
The government’s inquiry could end in a suit by the DOJ against Google, but it’s not as if the matter has been rushed into the process. In March of this year, it was reported that the DOJ had sent letters to Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple asking them to turn over information on how they rank each other’s services in search results.
The government has alleged that Google’s practices, including its search dominance and handling of YouTube videos, have made it less likely that content on rival websites should show up high in search results. If an investigation finds these claims are true, the DOJ could bring charges against Google for allegedly abusing its dominant position in the search market.
The antitrust case, if it proceeds, could seriously hamper Google’s efforts to maintain dominance on the internet. In addition to its fierce rivalry with Apple, it recently made a strategic move with the acquisition of UK-based YouTube data management company DeepMind.
Another potentially distracting matter for Google is the ongoing battle with China, where the company is working on a search engine, but is prevented from doing so by government restrictions. Google is now locked in a battle to keep its best engineers from China.