As FTC Probes, a Timeline of Google Antitrust Investigations Past

Google confirmed it has received formal notification from the Federal Trade Commission regarding its review of the company. On its blog, Google said, “It’s still unclear exactly what the FTC’s concerns are,” and later stressed its commitment “to giving you choices, ensuring that businesses can grow and create jobs, and, ultimately, fostering an Internet that benefits us all.”

Google is no stranger to antitrust investigations. The European Commission got its own investigation of Google underway over a year ago, in part assessing the company’s ability to list search results linking to its own services above those of competitors.

U.S. agencies have scrutinized the company in recent years as its market dominance has strengthened. Here is a timeline:

May 2007: FTC Investigates Google’s Acquisition of DoubleClick

The FTC opened an antitrust inquiry into Google’s proposed acquisition of ad management firm DoubleClick. Amid objections from several competitors and privacy groups, industry watchers agreed the merger would probably be approved.

December 2007: FTC Approves Google/DoubleClick

The investigation finally came to a close with the FTC approving the deal in a 4-1 decision. Despite critics’ adamant contention that the two firms were direct competitors, the FTC said Google and DoubleClick do not directly compete “in any relevant antitrust market.” The FTC also said the merged firms wouldn’t have a major impact on competition in the online ad space in the future, noting the chance for anti-competitive manipulation of Google’s third-party ad serving business is unlikely.

Meanwhile, the European Commission’s ongoing investigation of the proposed deal loomed, while intervention by the U.S. Congress and lawsuit threats from privacy guardians also cast a shadow on the increasingly-powerful company.

July 2008: DOJ Probes Proposed Google/Yahoo Search Ad Pact

The U.S. Department of Justice confirmed its inspection of a search ad deal floated by the two biggest search firms, which had already been subject to congressional scrutiny.

The search ad deal, fostered during Yahoo founder Jerry Yang’s beleaguered reign as CEO, would have enabled Yahoo to carry ads purchased by Google advertisers on some of its search results pages, assumedly when the Google-sold ad brought in higher ad revenue. Google countered pricing collusion fears by arguing that because Yahoo wouldn’t be able to see auction prices for Google ads, and Yahoo wouldn’t be able to see Google ad prices, concerns about competition were baseless.

November 5, 2008: DOJ Lawsuit Threat Kills Google/Yahoo Ad Deal

After months of stalling and days of foreboding, Google’s search ad deal with Yahoo was kaput. Prompted by an antitrust lawsuit threat from the U.S. Department of Justice, Google announced it would end the agreement to run some if its ads in Yahoo search results.

The Justice Department said the search firms “would have become collaborators rather than competitors for a significant portion of their search advertising businesses, materially reducing important competitive rivalry between the two companies.”

Wrote David Drummond Google SVP, corporate development and chief legal officer on the firm’s Public Policy Blog: “Pressing ahead risked not only a protracted legal battle but also damage to relationships with valued partners…. That wouldn’t have been in the long term interests of Google or our users, so we have decided to end the agreement.”

December 2009: FTC Investigates Google’s Acquisition of AdMob

After weeks of discussions with the FTC regarding its proposed acquisition of mobile ad network AdMob, Google received a second request from the agency, asking for more information about the deal. The acquisition was poised to give Google a big boost in the mobile ad sector.

May 2010: FTC Approves Google/AdMob

The FTC unanimously approved the acquisition, concluding it was unlikely to inhibit competition in the mobile ad space. Apple’s purchase of Quattro Wireless seemed to help. In a statement, the FTC said it “lacked reason to believe that the transaction would likely result in a substantial lessening of competition, especially in light of marketplace developments that occurred during the course of its investigation, including Apple’s acquisition of Quattro and its subsequent introduction of iAd.”

Apple’s Quattro acquisition was cleared without investigation, despite Apple’s strong position in the smartphone space with its iPhone and iPad devices.

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