Senator Blumenthal Urges Hearing on Google Antitrust Concerns

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal said lawmakers should examine whether Google Inc. (GOOG) has hindered competition, joining other legislators who have expressed concerns about the owner of the Internet’s most popular search engine.

“I would strongly support a hearing” by the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust, he said today in an interview. “The recent acquisition by Google of e-commerce sites in a broad array of businesses raises some serious antitrust issues.”

The Connecticut Democrat said he planned to communicate his concerns to U.S. antitrust regulators. Google’s privacy policies may also be worth highlighting in a hearing, said Blumenthal, who as his state’s attorney general investigated the company’s collection of information from unsecured wireless networks.

Increasingly, lawmakers are supporting more scrutiny of Mountain View, California-based Google. Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican serving on the antitrust subcommittee, wrote a March 10 letter to the panel’s chairman, Senator Herb Kohl, pressing for a hearing on Google.

Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat, put an examination of Google on a list of the subcommittee’s priorities.

Adam Kovacevich, a Google spokesman, declined to comment about Blumenthal’s comments. Kovacevich has said that the Internet search industry has competition.

Any probe of Google should look at whether the company skews search results to rank its services higher than those of competitors, Blumenthal said.

“The very powerful potential exists for the steering of consumers to its sites without even the knowledge of the consumers themselves,” he said.

Two Investigations

As part of broader antitrust probes, both the European Commission and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott are investigating how Google ranks results.

Blumenthal declined to say whether he would ask the U.S. Justice Department or the Federal Trade Commission, the two agencies that enforce antitrust laws, to launch a probe. “I will be raising my concerns very pointedly,” he said. “There is a lot to investigate if in fact an antitrust investigation is initiated.”

The Justice Department is completing an eight-month review of Google’s planned acquisition of Cambridge, Massachusetts- based ITA Software Inc., which helps provide data to the online travel industry.

Norwalk, Connecticut-based Kayak.com, a travel search site, is among the Google rivals that have banded together in a group called Fairsearch.org to oppose the purchase.

Blumenthal declined to comment on whether he believed that the ITA deal is anticompetitive.

Recent Acquisitions

Google, which according to ComScore Inc. (SCOR) had 66 percent of the search market in February, is buying companies to boost its online services, spending about $1.6 billion on more than 20 companies in the first nine months of last year, according to regulatory filings.

Blumenthal, a member of the Judiciary subcommittee that deals with privacy matters, said he would discuss with the panel’s chairman, Minnesota Democratic Senator Al Franken, whether to proceed with a hearing on Google privacy concerns.

As Connecticut’s attorney general, Blumenthal led a 40- state coalition looking into Google gathering data as part of its Street View project to map neighborhoods.

Blumenthal said he was “disappointed” that Google hadn’t been more forthcoming in that investigation and in providing a witness for a recent Senate hearing on legislation to rein in websites that sell pirated products.

Google has said it inadvertently collected the computer users’ data.

“Clearly there was some illegality, whether intentional or inadvertent,” in the Street View data collection, said Blumenthal.

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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