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Texas Attorney General Seeks Google Ad Rate Formula

Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott’s office has requested an array of information from Google Inc., including the firm’s formula for setting advertising rates, according to a demand for documents by state antitrust officials.

The antitrust investigators also are seeking Google documents that show “manual overriding or altering of” search result rankings, according to Texas’s civil investigative demand. The order is similar to a subpoena, compelling a company to turn over documents and make executives available for interviews.

State investigators also want Google documents on rivals Microsoft Corp.’s Bing and Yahoo! Inc. and complaints about purchasing and placing an ad on Google, the world’s most popular Internet search engine.

Mountain View, California-based Google said on Sept. 3 that Abbott is looking into whether the company’s business practices thwarted competition. The scope of the Texas investigation previously hasn’t been disclosed publicly.

The new demand was made in a 13-page letter on July 29 from Kim Van Winkle, assistant attorney general in Texas’s antitrust division, to Matthew Bye, a lawyer for Google.

Reluctant to Share

Google has been reluctant to share information on its mathematical methods, known as algorithms, for running its search engine. In her letter, Van Winkle focuses on getting information for AdWords, a program for running ads next to search results.

“While there’s always going to be room for improvement, we’re committed to competing fair and square,” Adam Kovacevich, a Google spokesman, said in an e-mail in response to a request for comment. “We’re continuing to work with the Texas attorney general’s office to answer their questions and understand any concerns.”

The Texas demand encompasses documents related to Google’s shopping websites Froogle, Google Product Search and Google Shopping.

The Texas probe is one of several antitrust investigations involving Google. The Justice Department is close to deciding whether to approve the company’s purchase of ITA Software Inc., a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company that provides airline ticket information.

On Feb. 9, Attorney General Chris Koster of Missouri offered to assist the Justice Department’s ITA probe.

European antitrust regulators started probing Google in November for allegedly discriminating in its search results, requiring exclusivity obligations with advertising partners and abusing its dominant position by promoting its own services over those of rivals.

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