Google U.S. Probe to Be Resolved in 2012, Leibowitz Says

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz
Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission will resolve its antitrust investigation of Google Inc. “certainly by the end of the year,” said Jon Leibowitz, the agency’s chairman.

The commission is “somewhere in the middle” of its probe of whether Mountain View, California-based Google is abusing its dominance as operator of the world’s most popular search engine, Leibowitz said yesterday in an interview in Washington.

The investigation has become more active. The agency plans to question Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and hired Beth Wilkinson, a top Washington litigator, to run the probe. The FTC is deciding whether to sue Google for violating antitrust laws.

Google disclosed on June 24 that the FTC had begun a review of its business practices. The FTC is focusing on whether Google unfairly ranks search results to favor its own businesses and increases advertising rates for competitors, people familiar with the investigation have said.

The agency also is examining whether the company is using its control of the Android mobile operating system to discourage smartphone and device makers from using rivals’ applications, the people said.

Health Care

“Our size and success rightly generate scrutiny, which is why we’ve worked hard to explain how our business works,” said Adam Kovacevich, a Google spokesman, in an e-mail. “Because there’s always room for improvement, we’re happy to discuss any concerns the Federal Trade Commission might have.”

European Union Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said last month that EU regulators, who are conducting their own investigation of Google, had given the company a “matter of weeks” to make proposals addressing their concerns.

In yesterday’s interview, Leibowitz also said he is concerned about consolidation in the health-care industry.

“There needs to be a much greater injection of competition into health-care marketplaces,” he said.

Leibowitz, who was confirmed for another seven-year term in March, said he doesn’t know how long he’ll stay with the FTC.

“I love my job, I love my colleagues, I love the agency,” said Leibowitz, who was appointed as chairman in 2009 by President Barack Obama. “We’ll see what happens after the election.”

If Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, defeats Obama in November, he’ll be able to tap an FTC chairman from his own party.

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