Last spring, it was revealed that iPhones and Android mobile phones send individual’s “user location data” back to their respective companies, Apple and Google. Initially the news was met by an angry uproar from citizens concerned that their right to privacy was being collectively violated. It didn’t slow down sales of either iPhones or Androids however, both of which posted significant gains last year. While Google is quick to point out that the information is stored anonymously, consumer concern has prompted Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass) and Joe Barton (T-Texas) to call on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether Google’s privacy policies violate a previous settlement reached with the FTC last year.
This is in addition to the ongoing FTC antitrust probe into Google and Google+. Last June Google was answering questions about apparent manipulation of search results to accommodate its own products. The more recent probe includes Google +, and questions whether Google + has been given preferential treatment in Google’s vast network of online products and services. “The FTC is examining whether the company unfairly increases advertising rates for competitors and ranks search results to favor its own business, such as its networking site Google. According to the latest report, the FTC wants to find out “whether the company is using its control of the Android mobile operating system to harm competition.”
Google’s opponents have called for an investigation into Google’s search protocols for some time. Responding to reports of an imminent investigation, which originally surfaced in June of last year, FairSearch.org applauded the news. FairSearch.org represents companies such as Expedia, Travelocity, Kayak and Microsoft; all entities that have objected to Google’s actions.
“Google engages in anticompetitive behavior across many vertical categories of search that harms consumers,” the organization said in a statement. “The result of Google’s anticompetitive practices is to curb innovation and investment in new technologies by other companies.”
As of May 2011, Google had a 65.5 percent share of the U.S. search market, compared to 16 percent for Yahoo and 14 percent for Microsoft’s Bing. The European Commission began a similar antitrust investigation into Google’s search practices last year after numerous complaints from small businesses. That case is still pending. The gist of the FTC probe, prompted by the Senate, is that 1) since Google is a dominant gatekeeper to access competitive commercial opportunity online, and 2) if it deceptively represents that it is an equal opportunity search engine, 3) then favors the search results with Google products and services, then 4) Google is effectively using deceptive practices to steal the competitive opportunity of competitors and depriving Internet users’ of free choice to choose competing products and services.
While it is so far unclear what the long-term ramifications are for Google, the fact that this call to investigate has widespread bi-partisan support in Washington could lead to more trouble for the information conglomerate before all is said and done. Most recently Apple was subpoenaed regarding the Apple iOS use of Google products on their smartphones. Should Google be found to have violated the terms of their 2011 settlement, serious punitive action from the federal government may be in Google’s future.
“FTC and Google’s Ongoing Battle and its Implications:” was written by Matt Davis. Matt is a Victim Advisor at the Identity Theft Resource Center. We welcome you to post/reprint the above article, as written, giving credit to and linking back to ITRC Blog.