Probe asks: Has Google abused its search powers?

SAN FRANCISCO - The top attorney for the state of Texas has revealed a list of demands for inside information intended to ferret out whether Google abused its power in the online search ad arena.

Texas attorney general Greg Abbott wanted names of people responsible for Google ads, search results, and business relations along with internal documents and minutes from meetings at the California firm.

The "civil investigative demand" paperwork dated July 29 of last year stated the intent was to investigate "the possibility of monopolisation in the market for internet search advertising."

Abbott's office would not discuss whether Google had complied with the demands. Google did not respond to an inquiry.

The more than 50 requests itemised on three pages included any documents related to the manual override of search results generated by Google's automated algorithm, as well as the blacklisting of any websites.

Google's dominance of the multi-billion-dollar online search market has put it in crosshairs of regulators concerned it might abuse its position.

The US Justice Department is reportedly considering a court challenge to Google's US$700 million acquisition of travel information company ITA Software.

Federal antitrust lawyers were said to be examining whether acquiring ITA, which powers many of the web's most popular travel sites, would give the internet search giant too much sway over the online travel industry.

Online travel firms have urged the US authorities to block the deal.

ITA, a 500-person firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, specialises in organising airline data, including flight times, availability and prices.

Its QPX flight data organisation tool uses algorithms to combine flight information from airlines, including pricing and availability, to create a searchable database.

QPX software is used by online travel agencies and airlines. Microsoft's Bing search engine, Kayak, Orbitz and TripAdvisor are ITA customers.

Italy's antitrust authority in January closed a probe into Google for alleged abuse of its market position, saying it accepted pledges made by the search engine to provide greater transparency.

European Union regulators in November launched a full-frontal attack on Google, formally opening an antitrust probe after rivals accused the Silicon Valley giant of rigging the online search market.

Smaller companies accused Google of "unfavourable treatment" of their services in both unpaid and sponsored search results, the crucial listings that make the web navigable.

- AFP

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