A question of trust
Search giant Google has revealed that it has been approached by the Texas attorney general as part of an antitrust review. This investigation seems to be essentially along the lines of the European one, revealed back in February, looking into whether Google manipulates its search results in order to suppress competition, mainly in the area of price comparison.
Just as in the earlier case, Google has responded to this new investigation by pointing out that the hidden hand of Microsoft can be seen in the complaints received by the Texas AG. Foundem was part of the European complaint too, and is a member of ICOMP, which is sponsored by Microsoft.
Meanwhile Google points to a WSJ story revealing TradeComet and myTriggers are represented by the same law firm the deals with much of Microsoft's antitrust work.
"We're looking forward to working cooperatively with the Texas Attorney General's office, and we strongly believe our business practices reflect our commitment to build great products for the benefit of users everywhere," said Don Harrison, Google deputy general counsel, in a blog post.
Back in February, when the European investigation became known, Microsoft argued that whether or not it is behind these complaints it irrelevant. "It's worth asking whether Google's response really addresses the concerns that have been raised. Complaints in competition law cases usually come from competitors," said Dave Heiner, Microsoft VP and deputy general counsel, before pointing out that Google itself has hardly been shy about pointing the antitrust finger at Microsoft.
It does seem a bit disingenuous of Google to focus all of its defence on the transparent agenda of search competitor Microsoft. Not only is it perfectly above-board for a competitor to bring suspected antitrust activity to the attention of the authorities (nobody criticized AMD for doing that), but it's probably only the largest companies that have deep enough pockets to support this kind of action.
Having said that, the sites in question seem so small that it's hard to consider them a credible threat to Google, so why would it risk so much to suppress them? More likely is that they're proxies for Microsoft to strategically turn the antitrust heat up on Google and make sure it has to play strictly by the rules.