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Google Antitrust Probe Is Urged by Republican U.S. Senator

Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, added his support to a growing number of lawmakers seeking congressional hearings on Google Inc. (GOOG)’s business practices.

In a letter to Herb Kohl, chairman of the Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, Lee said he has “strong concerns” that Google, owner of the most popular Internet search engine, is abusing its dominant market position.

“The powerful position Google occupies in the general search arena creates myriad opportunities for anticompetitive behavior,” Lee wrote. The letter, dated March 10, was released today.

Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat, said in a statement yesterday that he would “examine allegations raised by e-commerce websites that compete with Google that they are being treated unfairly in search ranking and in their ability to purchase search advertising.”

Mountain View, California-based Google also has drawn congressional criticism for what the company said was the accidental collection of people’s personal computer information from unsecured wireless networks. Representative Joe Barton, a Texas Republican who is a co-chairman of the Congressional Privacy Caucus, has called for a hearing on the matter.

Google’s Response

Adam Kovacevich, a Google spokesman, said competition exists in the search market.

“Our goal is to provide users with the best possible answers as quickly as possible,” he said in a statement. “We know that if we don’t deliver useful results, competition is only one click away.”

As a Salt Lake City-based attorney for Howrey LLP, Lee provided legal advice to 1-800 Contacts Inc. as the company pressed the state legislature to pass a search-related bill, said Joe Zeidner, general counsel for the Draper, Utah-based company.

The legislation would have prevented rivals’ ads from appearing in results for Internet searches based on the company’s trademarked name.

After spending millions of dollars on advertising, “our competitors get to freeload off the awareness we’ve built,” Zeidner said in an interview.

Google and other search firms opposed the bill, which died in the state Senate after passing the House.

More Oversight

In his letter to Kohl, Lee said that the growing number of technology companies in Utah gives the state “a significant interest in preserving open competition in this important area of our economy.”

Representative Charles Gonzalez, a Texas Democrat and a member of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee that deals with privacy issues, said he also favored more congressional oversight of Google.

“We’re always hoping that a department or an agency is minding the store, but we’ve learned in the past that’s not always true,” he said in an interview. “You can have a reasonable question about cornering markets and expanding by acquisitions.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Bliss in Washington at jbliss@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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