Another day, another example of a government official questioning Google. The week started with President Trump making accusations that Google's search results were prioritizing certain content over others. This is an accusation that has been made many times by people all over the world. It has varied from claiming the company prioritizes its own content over more relevant results to filtering content that Google's corporate leadership disagrees with.
The important topic, however, came up on Thursday when Senator Orrin Hatch sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission encouraging them to reopen their investigation into Google's policies. Senator Hatch said in the letter,
I write to express my concern about recent reports on Google's search and digital advertising practices. In the past, Google has placed restrictions on publishers' displaying search advertisements from its competitors. Google loosened some of those restrictions when faced with antitrust complaints, and the European Commission has said it is monitoring to see if those new restrictions have anticompetitive effects. Then in May, 60 Minutes aired a segment that highlighted several allegations regarding purportedly anticompetitive conduct by the company involving its search practices.
Other reports have highlighted the fact that Google has, on occasion, decided to remove from its platforms legal businesses that the company apparently does not agree with. Moreover, in the past several months, several of my Senate colleagues wrote to Alphabet, Google's parent company, regarding its data collection by the Android mobile operating system and privacy practices for Gmail users' data, including Google's practice of giving third-party app developers access to the actual content of emails.
Needless to say, I found these reports disquieting.
All of the issues raised in the letter are issues that should be of concern to consumers. Removing companies without violation, anticompetitive advertising practices, and privacy violations are all topics of interest to the public, especially considering Google's position in the market. Bing has made big gains in search, especially since introducing Microsoft Rewards, but Google still owns the majority of the market. When the FTC last looked into these policies, which was in 2010, the reason they concluded that the policies were not an issue had to do with the idea that Apple would become a big player in mobile advertising, which it has not.
Adding to Hatch's concerns has been a collection of new information, such as Google ignoring their own settings for location privacy. When combined with a report this week detailing a frightening deal with MasterCard to allow Google to track a person's in-person purchases using the card, it is almost certainly time for the FTC to at least take a look again.