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FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the internet.
The European Union is conducting an investigation of Google to ascertain whether the Internet search giant has committed antitrust violations, according to a recent New York Times article.
Specifically, the EU antitrust investigation is seeking to find out from companies that advertise via Google if they were asked by Google to increase their advertising spending on the site in exchange for better prominence in Internet search results. Furthermore, an effort is being made to understand whether Google sought to get in the way of companies that sought to take their advertising business to other places on the Internet.
Apparently, a confidential questionnaire was sent to companies who advertise on Google and that is intended to find out if Google played with search results to maintain advertising business and to cause detriment to online Internet search and advertising competitors, as reported by the New York Times and supposedly reviewed by The International Herald Tribune.
This questionnaire is reported to contain questions such as: "Please explain whether and, if yes, to what extent your advertising spending with Google has ever had an influence on your ranking in Google's natural search"; and "Has Google ever mentioned to you that increasing your advertising spending could improve your ranking in Google's natural search?"
The EU antitrust investigation also apparently seeks to ascertain whether Google has attempted improperly to exert influence as to advertising on mobile devices, and if Google is trying to hang on to customers by erecting roadblocks for them to transfer information to competitor services. The targeted companies reportedly have been requested to respond in February.
These questions, if posed as reported, are significant, because natural search results are supposed to display most relevant information responding to users' specific search requests, as opposed to paid advertising that appears on search engines.
The New York Times article states that Google is blaming Microsoft for creating opposition to its business in Europe, because in antitrust authorities there have been more aggressive recently than in the US to look into alleged antitrust violations.
It will be interesting, to say the least, to see how this plays out after the companies respond to the EU questionnaires.
Eric Sinrod is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP (http://www.duanemorris.com) where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. His Web site is http://www.sinrodlaw.com and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please send an email to him with Subscribe in the Subject line.
This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.