Sep 062010
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has opened a probe into whether Google ranks its search listings with an eye toward nicking the competition, the company announced in a Friday blog post that suggested the concerns have a major sponsor: Microsoft.

In question is whether the world’s biggest search engine could be unfairly disadvantaging some companies by giving them a low ranking in free search listings and in paid ads that appear at the top of the page. That could make it tough for users to find those sites and might  violate antitrust laws.

Abbott’s office asked for information about three companies who have
publicly complained about Google, according to blog post by Don Harrison, the company’s deputy general counsel. Harrison linked
each of the companies to Microsoft.

One is Foundem, “the British price
comparison site that is backed by ICOMP, an organization funded largely
by Microsoft,” he writes. Another is
myTriggers, which Harrison calls a “site represented by Microsoft’s
antitrust attorneys.” SourceTool, the third site, is also “represented
by longtime Microsoft antitrust attorneys.”

Google denies that it tries to get a competitive edge out of its rankings. “The important thing to remember is that we built Google to provide the most useful, relevant search results and ads for users. In other words, our focus is on users, not websites,” Harrison writes.

He added that because Google cannot give every website a high rank, “it’s unsurprising that some less relevant, lower quality websites will be unhappy with their ranking.”

The company said it looks “forward to working cooperatively with the Texas Attorney General’s office.”

According to Search Engine Land, which first reported the Texas probe, the review began in July.

Danny Sullivan, who wrote the article, added this analysis: “My view is the arguments are generally absurd. None of these companies are large enough to pose any threat to Google, to the degree it would be compelled to take such stupid action. Moreover, if Google’s going to act to block a competitor, I’d expect it to pick bigger targets — say like Microsoft.”

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