Google’s competitors accuse Google of giving its own services preferential treatment in search results, and they claim that regulators are not doing enough about it. Google has been busy promoting its own social network Google+ by integrating information from its other services into search results made by subscribers to Google+, thereby extending its search dominance and killing competition on the Web, according to critics.
The Federal Trade Commission, along with several states, is already investigating Google for other alleged anti-trust violations, and it indicated that it would add Google’s latest practices to its review. The other alleged violations include Google’s copying reviews from other local web services such as Yelp onto Google Places, thereby giving an unfair advantage to its own service. After an outcry over this practice, Google announced that it would stop copying reviews from other local web services onto its Places pages. Instead it would only post reviews prepared by Google users. There are still accusations that Google is using other content from rival sites, and critics insist that regulators pursue Google for its past practices in copying information from other local web services onto its pages.
Although some suggest that a claim can be made against Google for illegally tying its own services to its search function to gain an unfair market advantage, that same principle was not upheld in the Department of Justice’s anti-trust case against Microsoft. In the Microsoft case, the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s ruling on this issue, and the parties eventually agreed to settle out of court. As part of that settlement, Microsoft agreed to ensure that Windows was compatible with non-Microsoft software and to untie its browser from its operating system.
The anti-trust provisions in the Microsoft case expired in May 2011, and Microsoft has decided to once again tie its browser to its Windows software. This time around, Microsoft is tying Internet Explorer 10 to Windows 8. Nowadays, this practice is not unusual and may not raise the ire of the Department of Justice and state regulators the way it did over a decade ago. The technological landscape has changed quite a bit since Microsoft initially undertook this practice. In fact, one of its competitors, Apple also ties its browser to its operating system in such a way that it is impossible to untie. Take for example the iPad. It is impossible to untie the Safari browser from the operating system. So far there has been no outcry from the Department of Justice or local regulators regarding this practice.
Should there be? Also, should Google’s new “Search Plus Your World,” or “Search Plus Google+” as critics call it, be treated differently than a browser bundled in an operating system because of its ubiquity?