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Senate antitrust committee to look at Google search ranking

Google is no stranger to criticism and government scrutiny of its business practices, but the company has just had another shot fired across its bow by U.S. lawmakers: the antitrust subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary committee has announced it will look into complaints over Google’s search ranking system.

“In recent years, the dominance over Internet search of the world’s largest search engine, Google, has increased and Google has increasingly sought to acquire e-commerce sites in myriad businesses,” wrote U.S. Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights. “We will closely examine allegations raised by e-commerce Web sites that compete with Google that they are being treated unfairly in search ranking, and in their ability to purchase search advertising.”

For years, some businesses claim they have not been fairly represented in Google’s search listings, and many have noted that Google dominance of the online search market creates many possible opportunities for anticompetitive behaviors. Google has in the past been accused of favoring companies that pay for search advertising through the service, and enabling companies to encroach on others’ trademarks in search advertising.

Several Google business initiatives have also faced antitrust scrutiny, most notably its Google Books projects which aims to digitize, distribute, and even sell the contents of millions of books held by libraries and other collections, in many cases without explicit permission from rights holders. Google is also facing scrutiny from European Union regulators over its search ranking and advertising practices, and Google acquisition of travel software developer ITA may become the subject of a Justice Department investigation.

Google has also recently revised its search rankings in an effort to weed out so-called “content farms”—sites that aggregate and republish links and material gleaned elsewhere, but offer little original content of their own.

Senator Kohl also indicates the antitrust subcommittee intends to keep an eye on Google business moves going forward: “We also will continue to closely examine the impact of further acquisitions in this sector.”

Despite its dominance of the Internet search market, Google has consistently maintained that competition is healthy in the Internet search marketplace.